Kamiko Dmetruik knows what it’s like to strike a balance between honouring tradition and following a dream that’s perceived as unconventional.
“Growing up I loved living and working on the farm. I enjoyed learning how to cook Ukrainian food from my Baba and how to look after a home from my mother, the women in my family had very traditional roles, but there was a part of me that always wanted to explore something different.”
Her father, Carl, was a pipefitter and as a feisty young girl Kamiko was fascinated by the construction industry.
“I thought if he can do it, so can I. I told my mom that I wanted to be like my dad and become a pipefitter. She wasn’t very happy about it and told me that construction was no place for a lady. I said, well then, I guess I’m not a lady.”
“I’ve always believed that women need to make their own path, make their own money and just go for it. I’ve always been very strong-willed and wanted to make my own way and not have to rely on anyone for anything.”
“When I was just 19 years old and my parents were away on holidays, I seized the opportunity and got myself to the union hall where I signed the papers to start my pipefitter apprenticeship. They weren’t too happy when they came home but I believe you need to follow your dreams.”
I could hear the excitement in her voice as she told this story and I couldn’t help but smile, quietly relating to the whole, “ask forgiveness later” notion. She also joked that she probably gave her parents most of their grey hair, which I also can relate to.
Kamiko’s first job took her to Regina, Saskatchewan working at the upgrader where she stayed for five months before it was time to come back to Alberta. “I came back to the Vilna area and at just 21 years old married Roman. We’d known each other forever, growing up on neighbouring farms about five minutes apart,” she says. “I liked him from the time I was about six years old. I always got teased at church for it and his family would bug him as well, but he never talked to me until one night at the Stry Hall community dance when he finally asked me for my phone number.”
Kamiko giggles when she recounts that exactly nine months after getting married, they had their first baby, Ginny. It would have been easy for the young wife and mother to put her pipefitting dream on hold but instead when Ginny was two months old, Kamiko went back to school to finish what she started. “Roman was very encouraging. He knew that it was important for me to continue with my apprenticeship and helped in every way that he could. I had a great support system around me of family and friends.”
Six months later, she headed up north to work to continue accumulating her required apprenticeship hours. “It was not an easy decision to leave and trust me in rural communities especially, everyone has an opinion, and I heard them all. But I don’t believe in putting things on hold. There will always be a reason to not go for it, whether it’s kids or timing or finances. Sometimes you just need to find a way to persevere regardless of what people think.”
It wasn’t too long before they had their second baby, Rosie and a year later, Kamiko went to work in Redwater.
You would think that between two young children, working full-time, and helping to run the farm that Kamiko had no time to take on anything else. You would be wrong. This powerhouse was also attending the University of Alberta in the evenings and on weekends obtaining her Construction Management Certification.
Following your dreams is one thing but she says that in a male dominated industry like construction, proving yourself is something entirely different. Kamiko came across many roadblocks along the way. “You’re under a microscope all of the time and I quickly learned to be prepared. I needed to prove myself every day to earn trust and I also discovered that the more tools you have in your back pocket the better,” she says.
“Looking back, I am grateful to employers who were confident in my abilities as a tradesperson. I’m also grateful that employers like UFA are leading the way by hiring women based on talent and skill. As a UFA member, it makes me proud to see a strong, accomplished woman leading an agricultural co-operative.”
This past April, Kamiko received her Journeyman Pipefitter Certificate, in June her Construction Management Certificate and in October, they welcomed their third baby, Bodhan.
Right now, Kamiko is busy raising her three kids and looking after all of the farm animals but it’s a choice that she is making on her terms. “It was important for me to get my certifications but right now my family comes first. I’m choosing to focus on my children and to be home, which I love, but I also know I have many options.”
“Where’s the rule that says you must choose between being a strong, career woman or being a more traditional wife and mother? I’m not one dimensional and there’s room for me to enjoy being all of those things.”
In Kamiko’s last role, she was the Junior Project Manager at an industrial fabrication shop. “These days, I just oversee a bit of a different crew consisting of my kids and calves. And there’s nothing more satisfying than to watch babies grow and thrive.”
Kamiko is also enjoying passing along family traditions to her children.
“One of my favourite things to do is to make my own butter and cheese. My baba used to have milk cows and she passed down her butter press to me. It holds very special memories for me and I’m excited to teach my kids some of the same traditions I grew up with.”
Kamiko says she’s raising her children to be happy in whatever it is they choose to do. “They can pave their own way. If they choose to be farmers, we will support them, if they want to go into the trades, we can help them there as well. The main thing is to do the best you can everyday regardless of what path you choose.”
What does the next year look like for Kamiko and her family?
“For a long time, Roman would say that we would go on a date when things slowed down at the farm. The funny thing is, things never slow down! There is no such thing as down time when you’re farming. There are always chores to do and when those are done, guess what? There are more chores waiting!” she laughs. “So, a couple of years ago we made a pact to go on a family vacation once a year. Last year we took a family trip to Disneyworld. I think Roman and I enjoyed it more than the kids. We loved it! Neither of us had ever been anywhere like that and it was so much fun, we want to go back.”
Other than enjoying some of the fruits of their labour, the young couple would also like to build their own barn and some new corrals. I have a feeling I know who the Construction Manager will be and I’m hoping to see an invite in the mail for a barn-raising sometime in 2019.