The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) today announced Grace Esquega, President of Niigaani Enterprises as the first winner of the FPAC/AFN Aboriginal Forest Products Business Leadership Award.

The award celebrates First Nations entrepreneurs for their success in a forest products business that exemplifies business leadership, exceptional environmental and safety performance and the delivery of high-quality products and services. The award recipient must also demonstrate a strong, long-term commitment to the Aboriginal community particularly in supporting Aboriginal employment.

“Grace Esquega and the workers at Niigaani Enterprises, are inspirational leaders on every front,” said Avrim Lazar, President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada. “They enhance the rural economy by providing communities with skills training and long-term employment opportunities through sound business practices and strong partnership with governments and stakeholders.  And they do this always with a view to achieving their environmental objectives.”

“Niigaani has exhibited longevity, great versatility, entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to adapt to shifting demands in the forest industry,” said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine. “This ability to lead, to grow, and to foster a true community enterprise is a statement of the deep commitment Ms. Esquega and her company have to their community and their people. ”

“We are very pleased to have nominated Ms. Esquega and Niigaani Enterprises for the Aboriginal Forest Products Business Leadership Award,” said Luke Drapeau, General Manager Wood Products NW Ontario, Abitibibowater. “Niigaani Enterprises is fully deserving of this award; not only have they successfully managed their business, but they have ensured that their northern Ontario community of Gull Bay has benefited economically, environmentally and socially.”

“This award means a great deal to me and to my staff. It signifies the successful culmination of a long journey for my family and the many workers who were part of a dream – a dream that my husband had in 1983 when he started Niigaani Enterprises. He envisioned a logging operation, owned and operated by native people, which would provide our community with meaningful employment for a long time. I look around and see many families that benefit from this company and feel a sense of security.  I am glad I was able to continue his legacy and I am honoured by this award,” says Ms. Esquega.

The award is being presented to Ms. Esquega at the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Meeting in Calgary.

About the Award:

The Aboriginal Forest Products Business Leadership Award was created by the AFN and FPAC to showcase aboriginal entrepreneurs.  Niigaani was one of several nominations received from across Canada.  Award nominees were judged against six criteria:  Business Leadership, Longevity, Employment of Aboriginal Peoples, Safety and Environmental Performance, Consistency of Goods and Services Provided, and Commitment to Aboriginal Community.

About Niigaani Enterprises:

Niigaani Enterprises, based out of Gull Bay and Thunder Bay, Ontario, has been incorporated as a forest products and silvicultural company since 1983. The forerunner to Niigaani was the Kiashke River Native Development Corporation which had been an entity since 1974. Tim Esquega Sr. was a founding father of Kiashke Development and became the President of Niigaani until his death in 2000. His successor is his wife Grace Esquega.

Niigaani has been delivering fibre to Thunder Bay area sawmills and pulp & paper mills for over 25 years and has also been involved in silvicultural activities such as scarification, tree planting and tending in the Spruce River and Black Sturgeon Forests.


FPAC is the voice of Canada’s forest producers nationally and internationally in government, trade and environmental affairs. Canada’s forest products industry is a $65-billion dollar a year industry that represents 11% of Canada’s manufacturing GDP. The industry is one of Canada’s largest employers, operating in hundreds of Canadian communities and providing almost 250,000 direct jobs across the country.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

Lori Harrop
Executive Director, Environmental Reputation
Forest Products Association of Canada
(613) 563-1441 ext: 313

Bryan Hendry
Senior Policy Advisor
Economic Partnerships
Assembly of First Nations
On-site cell: 613-293-6106