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Forestry opportunities useful for First Nations

The Prince George Citizen
April 22, 2016

By David Walkem

Certifying a forest to a sustainable forest management standard is an important way for managers to assure their markets and the general public of the sustainable forestry they practice on their lands.

It also helps indigenous communities ensure our values are reflected in the management of those forests.

Beyond defining sustainable forest management practices, forest certification standards include recognition of indigenous values and rights on the land and provide for an independent, third-party audit of those forestlands.

Engaging indigenous communities promotes protection of culturally important areas and uses of the land, and contributes to a more well-rounded plan that balances conservation, environmental, social and economic values.

Because independent audits verify whether certified forest managers are adhering to the standards, customers and the general public can be confident the forest products derived from certified forestlands come from sustainable, well-managed forests.

As a registered professional forester, I believe the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification standard not only meets these requirements, but is complementary to the sustainable forest management commitments that indigenous land managers have made to their communities.

We are not alone as more and more indigenous land managers across North America adopt the same system.

More important, certification aligns closely with values that recognize indigenous peoples’ rights, traditional knowledge and environmental concerns like water management, conservation and biodiversity, while it supports local economies.

And certification can help improve social conditions in First Nations communities.

For example, the lack of indigenous housing is a genuine crisis in this country.

Of some 603 bands in Canada, indigenous housing problems exist in virtually every community – some far worse than others.

It’s why SFI has partnered with Habitat for Humanity Canada’s Indigenous Housing Program to encourage the use of certified wood in their program.

We are making progress.

My own story helps to illustrate that point. In Spence’s Bridge, where I was born and raised, our connection with the land is central to our language and identity as Nlaka’pamux people, but it’s poorly understood by industry, government, and the public.

A key factor in my decision to study forestry in the first place was to understand how forest planning and operations could incorporate our traditional land uses and to identify how our people could become forest managers and gain more economic benefits from the industry around us.

And even though our people had worked in the forest industry for decades, significant industry consolidation in the 1960s resulted in many of my community members losing jobs.

By 1997, when the provincial government began allowing First Nations to access significant forest tenures, we had challenges rebuilding our capacity – and a lot of catching up to do.

By 2004, eight bands formed the Stuwix Resources Joint Venture. That’s a lot of progress in a short time. With our forest licence, Stuwix encouraged our community entrepreneurs to establish their own businesses and they became more involved in all aspects of the industry, from logging and silviculture to forest managers.

Our logging and forest technicians were able to finance their own operations, and prove their ability to perform to the point where they now get contracts to work for the companies in our area.

And they are among the top operators in the industry.

As a member of the SFI board, I’m also proud SFI is working with the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Businesses to help build relationships between Canadian businesses and indigenous peoples. Through this relationship we are starting to see more forest companies become members of the CCAB which helps further their understanding of indigenous peoples.

Continent-wide, more than two million hectares of lands held by or managed for indigenous communities are certified to the SFI forest management standard.

We hope to improve on an already impressive sustainable forestry track record as our knowledge grows, long into the future.

David Walkem is chief of the Cooks Ferry Band, president of Stuwix Resources Joint Venture and a board member of Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

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