— by David Lindsay, President and CEO, FPAC
There was an Aboriginal theme to our work around FPAC over the past few weeks as 2014 came to a close. We presented two Aboriginal awards and staff engaged in a very informative Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training session in the office.
Given the rural and remote location of much of our forest activity, it is not surprising that the forest products industry is one of the largest employers of First Nations in Canada. It is estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of Canada’s Indigenous population live close to forestry operations.
The attached chart is based on data from the 2006 census. It shows that in many parts of the country the forest sector employees almost twice as many Aboriginal workers compared to their representation in the provincial workforce.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba for example have the largest percentage of Aboriginal employees in the workforce with approximately ten percent overall while the forest sector in that part of Canada has almost one in five Aboriginal employees – almost 20 percent. Aboriginal youth are the fastest growing segment of the workforce and the forest products industry is interested in attracting these young people to consider a career in the forest sector.
I was pleased to present this year’s Forest Products Association of Canada Aboriginal Youth Skills Award to Shownoo Blackbird-Williams. I met Shownoo in Winnipeg at the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce Breakfast on Wednesday December 10th. At the Winnipeg Breakfast meeting I introduced Shownoo to the audience and presented him with this much deserved recognition. The Press Release announcing the winner of our third annual Youth Skills Award is posted on our web site.
Shownoo enrolled in the First Nations Forestry Technician Program at the Anishinabek Education Institute at Muncey Campus in southwestern Ontario and is pursuing his career in forestry working with Island Breeze Tree Service. During our visit I was also introduced to his friend and mentor, Apollo Blackeagle an Arborist with Island Breeze Tree Service.
Earlier in the year, FPAC also presented our annual award for Aboriginal Business Leadership. Working in cooperation with the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business, we selected Stuwix Resources with this much deserved recognition. Again, the details of the announcement from November 18th can be found on our website.
Aboriginal employees working in the forest industry go back several hundred years. In my Remembrance Day Blog I wrote about the Mohawks working as log drivers on the Ottawa River back in the 1800’s. The relationship between First Nations and Canada has a long and storied history; some of it good but much of it not so positive.
To make sure we had a better understanding of the history and the culture of Canada’s Indigenous people, FPAC staff recently participated in an Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training Session. Jennifer David of Stone Circle Consulting ran a daylong session in our office. We learned about the culture and governance structure of the Aboriginal population in Canada. We discussed the challenges on reserves and the legacy of residential schools. We explored some of the recent Supreme Court decisions and enjoyed a lunch prepared by Wawatay Catering Company which included bannock, venison and salmon — traditional Algonquin foods presented in a modern fusion style.
There is a long history and a positive future for both the forest sector and for First Nations in Canada. Shownoo Blackbird-Williams and Stuwix Resources are just two examples of that potential.
The more we understand our heritage and work together to respect our cultures, the more successful we will be as individuals, as an industry and, as a country.