Day in the Life: Rene Bourque, Indigenous Relations Lead, West Earth Sciences Ltd.
- 4 min read
Ask any kid slapping a puck against the boards what they want to be when they grow up and a lot of them will say a hockey player for the NHL. Many never come close to living that dream, but a handful do. Rene Bourque was one kid who did.
But even those who realize their dreams must eventually wake up and carry on with life. When Rene’s career with the NHL ended, he looked to his Métis background, his father’s experience working in the oil sands, and a hard-working family to set himself on a new career path as Indigenous Relations Lead at West Earth Sciences Ltd.
“My dad would always talk to me about, ‘Look at how hard we were working to give you everything you need to succeed,’” Rene says. “Once I realized that if I’m on the ice at practice and it’s always in the back of my head, ‘My parents are working this hard, I better put my best effort in and my best foot [forward] to improve my skills.’”
The hard work paid off, and after a season with the St. Albert Saints junior team, Rene secured a scholarship playing hockey for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned his Bachelor of Science.
“I was kind of a late bloomer,” he says. “Just being able to get a scholarship and having the grades to get into a good university and having something to fall back on if hockey didn’t work out.”
The big leagues
After university, he continued persevering and despite not being drafted, worked his way into the big leagues, playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. He later donned jerseys for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks, and Colorado Avalanche as well. Rene capped his hockey career with a bronze medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But in the competitive world of hockey, late 30-somethings are in the twilight of their careers. After 14 years as a pro, the pride of Lac La Biche, Alberta, hung up his blades.
Rene turned his full attention to his family after retiring, but once his kids were in school, he needed to stretch his career legs again. His first thought was finding a role in hockey, and a few organizations offered scouting and player development work. He soon realized, however, that these jobs would put him on the road some 20 days a month—something he wasn’t willing to do.
An old friend and teammate from St. Albert, and the CEO of West Earth Sciences, eventually called Rene asking if he was interested in becoming the company’s Indigenous Relations Lead. West Earth Sciences offers a broad range of environmental and technological services to the energy, governmental, First Nations, agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors.
A day in the life
In his role, Rene enjoys building relationships, noting the time it takes to lay solid foundations and establish trust with some Indigenous communities. This means spending time on the ground to learn about a nation’s history and its unique culture.
When he’s not in the field, he’s usually busy in front of his computer responding to emails, meeting with people over Zoom and researching opportunities for West Earth to build partnerships with Indigenous communities.
“My typical day is being in contact with these nations and trying to figure out how we can work together, provide work for their members, provide training for their members, and visit and spend time in the community. It could be spending time at powwows or cultural events even before we start speaking business, just getting to know the people one-on-one and developing a level of trust.”
Rene Bourque, Indigenous Relations Lead
Being relatively new to the energy sector, and his role in Indigenous relations, Rene learns something new every day. Still, he’s able to call on his Métis background, growing up around First Nations communities in Northern Alberta where he maintains relations with community leaders.
While he’s not often called upon to tip a puck into a goal or pick up his man on the backcheck for West Earth, Rene points out that hockey is a business, and his skills from his days as a pro hockey player carried over into his new job.
He says being a team player, communicating effectively and being transparent with people—be it in a locker room or a First Nations community—are vital to building solid relationships and achieving goals.
“Going into new jobs or dealing with new communities, and just really trying to have a lot of conversations about what’s going on, what we need to do and what you need from us,” he says. “If somebody’s ringing to me on the phone, it’s just being available and just being a team player.”
Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
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