Having been unable to previously take advantage of the many opportunities associated with the forest industry, aboriginals are now in more control of their resources. In 1980, First Nations held tenure on just 100,000 cubic metres of wood supply. Today, that number has expanded to more than 20 million cubic metres.

“This is an extremely important development,” says Brad Young, Executive Director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association. “When you have a fast growing [and young] population that wants to have an ongoing connection with the land base, while using modern forest management practices to generate jobs, it’s a good thing.”

“The forest industry can uplift the youth and provide meaningful employment.”

Arnold Bercov, President of the Pulp, Paper, and Woodworker’s of Canada sees great promise in collaboration, and echoes Young’s sentiments, noting that First Nations want what everyone else does — healthy communities and opportunities for their children. “These are people who live within forested areas that they will be harvesting, so they have an interest in taking care of the environment,” he says.

A natural fit

With the shift to more involvement in the forest industry, there is renewed interest and enthusiasm, as young aboriginals can see a future for themselves. “It’s not a secret that unemployment is more severe in First Nations communities compared to the rest of the province,” says Keith Atkinson, CEO, BC First Nations Forestry Council. “The forest industry can uplift the youth and provide meaningful employment.”

With large numbers of baby boomers retiring from the workforce, there is a huge resource of human potential in First Nations communities. “It’s a natural fit for the First Nations to be in the forest sector, because the work is where they live and want to live,” says Atkinson, “but there is still a big gap in education and skills training, and we need to start preparing our young people now, so they are ready to capture the jobs when they are available.”