by Shayna Mason, Registered Forester In Training, University of Alberta Graduate

How is it that a person can grow up in a small city, whose economic stability is reliant on forestry, and have no idea what a forester is or what they do? I am not exactly sure how I did it but somehow I managed, when I graduated high school and went on to university I had no real knowledge about the forest industry at all. Today I am a new forestry grad who has recently registered as a Forester in Training (FIT) and was previously fortunate enough to be selected as a recipient of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) Skills Award for Aboriginal Youth in 2014. My journey to get here was a bit of a rollercoaster but it was definitely worth the ride. I was on track to graduate with a degree in finance and was perfectly happy with where I was at the time. Of course life changes and you adapt; a twist sent me tree planting and my fate out in the bush was sealed.

Growing up in a city, away from the traditions of my ancestors on the coast of British Columbia, I felt like I had lost a piece of my history. It was after my first summer planting when I realized it was the connection to the outdoors that I was missing; being out in the bush almost felt spiritual. In 2010, when I told my friends and family that I was going to leave my job at the bank and go into forestry, everyone thought I was crazy. Most people they knew were going back to school after being laid off at one of the local mills, still scrambling after the market crash in 2008.

With the support of the Gitxaala First Nation, my family, and many years of hard work, I have officially joined the work force. In my brief time thus far, my passion for the outdoors and finding connections to my ancestral roots has only grown stronger. I have learned so much more about traditional uses of local plants, hunting and trapping, and it gives me a greater respect for the land and the people who lived off of it. As forestry management evolves I feel that contributions from the aboriginal community are vital. Within those communities is a wealth of knowledge about the local landscape that you can’t find anywhere else.

I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of different divisions, from research to timber development. In every division there has been collaboration with the local aboriginal community. I feel fortunate to be where I am, working in an environment that values this cooperation. I look forward to learning and becoming more involved in the process along the way.

My advice to upcoming forestry students: be brave and push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are so many opportunities out there so take advantage of them; find something unexpected and find something you are passionate about.