First Na­tions moving into for­est sec­tor

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page -

The foun­da­tions of Canada’s forestry sec­tor are chang­ing as First Na­tions, strength­ened by le­gal vic­to­ries and leg­is­la­tion, look for more con­trol of the woods.

A greater share of forestry rights could help open the way to greater eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence, and is backed by a grow­ing body of case law that af­firms treaty rights, land ti­tle and du­ties to con­sult, said Peggy Smith, a forestry ex­pert at Lake­head Univer­sity in Thunder Bay.

“Those laws are hav­ing an im­pact across the coun­try, and I think provin­cial govern­ments that is­sue for­est li­cences are much more aware now of the duty to con­sult and re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­gage with First Na­tions be­fore they make even strate­gic-level de­ci­sions,” Smith said.

There have been sig­nif­i­cant changes in re­cent decades on the ques­tion of who gets the right to man­age and har­vest Crown forests, though rights are still largely locked up in longterm agree­ments with ma­jor forestry com­pa­nies.

In the early 1980s, Indige­nous-held ten­ure made up about 0.05 per cent of Canada’s to­tal wood sup­ply, while in 2017, with less over­all sup­ply, Indige­nous Peoples held 10.5 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Forestry As­so­ci­a­tion.

The share had not changed much since a re­port in 2013, but that could change as sev­eral provin­cial ini­tia­tives get un­der­way and provinces com­mit to the principles of the U.N. Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peoples.

In Bri­tish Columbia, where Indige­nous ten­ure stood at 11.6 per cent in 2017, the NDP gov­ern­ment passed a bill at the end of May to give it the right to re­view for­est ten­ure trans­fers be­tween com­pa­nies.

The law al­lows the gov­ern­ment to block trans­fers not in the pub­lic in­ter­est, which could open the po­ten­tial of divert­ing more ten­ure to First Na­tions, said Charlene Hig­gins, CEO of the B.C. First Na­tions Forestry Coun­cil.

“Na­tions want a big­ger say in the man­age­ment and use of for­est lands and re­sources in their ter­ri­to­ries, and ac­cess to more ten­ure. That’s the key to Bill 22, not only to level the play­ing field, but to sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to reconcilia­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of UNDRIP.”

The changes come at a time of sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in the in­dus­try as de­struc­tion from wild­fires and the moun­tain pine bee­tle have cre­ated acute short­ages of wood in B.C. and led to a wave of sawmill clo­sures and lay­offs.

In­ter­for Corp. and Can­for Corp. have pro­posed a ten­ure swap to make their re­main­ing mills health­ier, but the deal now has to pass the un­de­fined pub­lic in­ter­est test that adds to in­dus­try un­cer­tainty, said Su­san Yurkovich, CEO of the Coun­cil of For­est In­dus­tries.

“Cer­tainly cap­i­tal is mo­bile and it doesn’t like un­cer­tainty, and we need to make sure that the mills that have the abil­ity to com­pete in the global con­text have the fi­bre to be able to do so.”

She said the in­dus­try is al­ready the largest First Na­tions em­ployer in the re­source sec­tor, and could be sup­port­ive of some ten­ure shifts. But she said the in­dus­try is global and that the best way to sup­port First Na­tions, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and the in­dus­try is for mills have the fi­bre they need.

Hig­gins ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenges faced by the in­dus­try, but said First Na­tions forestry could suc­ceed through al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches.

“It’s a challengin­g time and the for­est sec­tor in B.C. is un­der­go­ing a tran­si­tion, but as more ten­ure comes un­der the con­trol of First Na­tions, we’re go­ing to see the man­age­ment of forests change to bet­ter re­flect Indige­nous views and per­spec­tives, and that’s a much longer-term model.”

There is po­ten­tial for other busi­ness mod­els of stew­ard­ship, said Harry Nel­son, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of forestry at the Univer­sity of B.C.

“If we step away from this kind of fo­cus on how much we try and push through the sys­tem, but we think about how much value we’re try­ing to gen­er­ate, then I do think there’s op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

There are op­tions on se­lec­tive cut­ting, more value-added pro­duc­tion, and even al­ter­na­tive uses of the for­est such as tourism.

He said key to First Na­tion growth is more in­dus­try com­pe­ti­tion, less con­cen­tra­tion of own­er­ship, and more cap­i­tal.

“I think there’s a lot of po­ten­tial, be­cause so many of them are un­der­cap­i­tal­ized, or un­der the optimal size. So I don’t think it would take much.” There are ex­am­ples of suc­cess. In Saskatchew­an, where Indige­nous Peo­ple have about 30 per cent of the al­lo­ca­tion, the Meadow Lake Tribal Coun­cil owns the largest First Na­tions owned sawmill in the coun­try. In May they an­nounced they would start to cre­ate en­ergy from resid­ual biomass from the mill.

On­tario’s in­dus­try went through sig­nif­i­cant upheaval and pol­icy changes after a down­turn in the mid2000s, which helped Indige­nous for­est al­lo­ca­tion to grow to about 18 per cent while some new ten­ure mod­els are still only getting off the ground.

Last year, the prov­ince awarded its first en­hanced sus­tain­able for­est li­cence that’s de­signed, among other things, to in­crease Indige­nous par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sec­tor.

Man­i­toba, mean­while, signed an agree­ment in Fe­bru­ary with a group of four First Na­tions in what it called a first-of-its-kind forestry de­vel­op­ment agree­ment.

Move­ment can be slow in an in­dus­try that has crop cy­cles in the decades but First Na­tions can be ex­pected to con­tinue push for ben­e­fits from their ter­ri­to­ries as part of a wider ef­fort to­wards reconcilia­tion, said Smith.

“This strug­gle has been go­ing on for a long time, and First Na­tions have been pa­tient and per­sis­tent and true to their principles, and they’re not go­ing to stop do­ing that.”

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