Ulf T. Runesson
Faculty of Natural
955 Oliver Road,
Thunder Bay, Ontario,
Canada P7B 5E1
Breaking New Ground...Role Models in the Forestry Industry
More and more First Nations and Metis youth are pursuing their career goals in the forest industry. Some are attending colleges and universities seeking resource management diplomas and forestry degrees. Others are pursuing graduate degrees in forestry. A few, fuelled by the entrepreneurial spirit, are establishing their own forest-based businesses.
Cheryl Ottertail is preparing to finish a diploma in Aboriginal Resource Technology at Sault College via distance education. The Lac La Croix band member has represented her community on numerous negotiation teams with forestry companies, MNR and Ontario Parks. Originally studying business administration, Ottertail decided that she wanted a career in forest management to assist with the development of her community. Last summer, Ottertail worked as a Park Operations Trainee at Quetico Provincial Park where her main responsibility was to ensure that Lac La Croix band members were properly consulted with respect to the park's cultural resource plan. Ottertail's interest in non-timber aspects of the forest began when she joined the Lac La Croix History Project shortly after she graduated from high school. The 13 volume collection includes photographs and Elders' testimony. She assisted with collecting oral testimony from Elders and was responsible for the translation and transcription of the interviews. Since then, she has participated in the first Forest Resources Inventory of the traditional lands of Lac La Croix, the Co-Existence Agreement between Quetico Park and Lac la Croix. She is considering attending the School of Forestry at Lakehead University after completion of her diploma at Sault College.
Bob Craftchick, an Aboriginal Resource Technician, is currently attending the School of Forestry and the Forest Environment at Lakehead University with four other recent Sault College graduates. Sault College and Lakehead University signed an articulation agreement that grants ARTs graduates advanced standing in the forestry degree program at School of Forestry. Craftchick says the articulation agreement between the two schools enhances opportunities for Aboriginal people to seek professional careers in forestry.
More and more Aboriginal women are pursuing graduate work in forestry in Canada. Peggy Smith, a R.P.F., is a senior policy analyst with the National Aboriginal Forestry Association (NAFA). She has published numerous articles and has given many presentations about policy issues with respect to Aboriginal participation and involvement in the forestry sector. She says she has noticed that forestry programs are slowly changing to reflect more environmental concerns, however, there is still much work to be done. "There are still pressures to conform to the status-quo methods of teaching. As a result, forestry students are in conflict when they graduate because they have to learn to tow the company line while trying to do their best for forest management."
Unlike Smith who is a professional forester, Deborah McGregor came to graduate studies in forestry with a background in psychology and environmental studies. She has undertaken much community-based research on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and the forest environment. Not having an undergraduate degree in forestry has proven to be a challenge at times for McGregor, who says many forestry professors prefer to teach only those with similar backgrounds. "It can be trying at times, but hopefully it will prove to be a learning experience for me as well as my committee." Others are pursuing forestry opportunities in the world of business. Roderick Wigwas is the owner/manager of Sustainable Forests, a Gull Bay based-business that specializes in tree planting, cone collection, tree spraying, thinning, and pile burning. He has six full-time employees and up to 20 seasonal employees. He has been in operation for two years. Wigwas started the business because unemployment was high at Gull Bay First Nation. He met with a representative of Bowater. "He was a little concerned because I was so young, but I knew that I had what it takes to be a sub-contractor. They gave me a shot. I did the work," he said. Wigwas had plenty of experience in reforestation. Wigwas was concerned with the high levels of youth unemployment on his reserve. "I wanted equal opportunity for good people who wanted to work," he said. He credits Aboriginal Business Canada for taking a chance on him. "It's the only funding agency in Canada," he said, "that didn't require me to get a Band Council Resolution to get funding. I didn't like the idea that I needed to go to Chief and Council. Now I don't have to listen to them to fund my company. As young Aboriginal entrepreneurs, we need to be free to make mistakes and find success without any political interference. One of my goals in establishing this business was to end my dependence on band-oriented employment controlled by Chief and Council."
Wigwas had a traditional upbringing in the bush. "My grandfather taught us about trapping and surviving in the bush." Even as a boy, Wigwas was interested in business and operated several when he was growing up. "It takes lots of determination to succeed. Many times I wanted to pack it in when I wasn't making any money. It took two years of planning before I planted a single tree." He advises other Aboriginal entrepreneurs to find good people who you trust. "You must seek out expertise outside of your community." The most important key to success he says "...is to be a man of your word. It feels good to be that kind of person."
Like Wigwas, Carl George knows that hard work and persistence are central to making any business successful. George, a Metis from Fort Frances, is one of the youngest harvesting contractors employed by Abitibi-Consolidated. Donna Lee, a community development officer with the Metis Nation of Ontario Training Initiatives, says George overcame many obstacles to establish his harvesting business. Originally turned down for funding by Aboriginal Business Canada, George poured all of his resources into the business and moved ahead. His successful logging business includes some of the most high-tech harvesting equipment available. His company has created three jobs.
There are never any guarantees, however it is clear that there are opportunities for Aboriginal youth in the forest sector who have the right mix of education, experience and hard work.
Roderick Wigwas, Sustainable Forests - "As young entrepreneurs we need to be free to make mistakes and find success without political interference."
Reprints courtesy of Megwekob First Nations - Lake Superior First Nations Trust
National Aboriginal Forestry Association
First Nation Forestry Program
Northern Ontario Native Tourism Association
Assembly of First Nations