Esk’etemc Chief Fred Robbins (left) and Yunesit’in Band Councillor Gabe Pukacz (right) met with Armajeet Sohi, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Tuesday in Williams Lake to talk about the success of programs in their communities that received federal funding previously. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Federal minister announces Indigenous participation in forest sector in Williams Lake

The funding was approved two years ago, and Sohi was in Williams Lake to celebrate the projects’ successes

Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi, was in Williams Lake Tuesday to follow up on a multi-year $321,500 investment in two Indigenous forestry projects in British Columbia that created jobs and boosted the economy.

Sohi said when the funding was originally approved two years ago he did not have the opportunity to travel to the region to make the formal announcement.

“We approved the funding then so they could move on with their training opportunities and business opportunities,” he told the Tribune. “Now that we are here, we thought we’d celebrate the two projects and celebrate with the communities.”

The first investment of $173,500 helped the Yune’sit’in Government support the business planning of an Indigenous-owned milling operation. The project, in partnership with Tolko Industries Ltd. and the Cariboo Chilcotin Aboriginal Training Employment Centre, helped workers with training and business plan development to take advantage of new opportunities in the forestry sector.

Yunesit’in band councillor Gabe Pukacz said the funding opportunity was a long-time coming for his community with industry doing the resource removal for decades in traditional caretaker areas.

“Thanks NARCAN for helping us turn an idea into a reality,” he said. “We wanted to see more dollars staying within our communities, we wanted to manage our forests while protecting our lands and also mill our timber and putting quality wood products back in our community, instilling pride, and a good feeling.”

The community emerged from the project with a business plan proving its viability to move forward, Pukacz said.

“Our Forest to Frame starts with us on the ground identifying and laying out of timber, a small scale logging operation, milling and marketing of lumber from our own portable sawmill, building materials for our own homes and other projects in our community.”

Read more: Yunesit’in greenhouse celebrates open house

The second investment of $148,000 helped train Esk-etemc First Nation community members in forest management, environmental monitoring, business development and safety and first aid, thus providing knowledge to support the community’s forestry-based economic development.

“Community members gained skills that will support the community forest resource industry and economic development in the future,” said Esk’etemc Chief Fred Robbins.

Several community members went through the program and are moving forward in the industry, he added.

“Jonathan Hutchison has started his own contracting business and has his own skidder and is now looking at small scale salvage for our community forest,” he said, noting another community member is now looking at “infrastructure in the community and the environmental pieces behind that.”

Both projects were funded by the Indigenous Forestry Initiative (IFA) that is part of our government’s Softwood Lumber Action.

Sohi said the funding continues to be available through IFA through Natural Resources Canada for innovative investments and training opportunities across Canada.

“This is part of our overall effort that we are putting forward to improve the economy and growing our forest sector and opportunities for rural and Indigenous communities.”

As for the Softwood Lumber Agreement, Sohi said it’s an ongoing dispute.

“We are defending industry and will continue to defend our industry and we have a program that supports industry through loans and offers protection if the need arises.”

On Monday evening, Sohi met informally with some locals at a cafe to discuss the region’s economy and challenges, he said.

READ MORE: First Nations collaborating to rehabilitate forests

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Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi in Williams Lake Tuesday. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Esketemc Chief Fred Robbins, Yunesit’in band councillor Gabe Pukacz, Esk’etemc economic development officer Ashley George, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, Williams Lake mayor Walt Cobb and Tolko manager of external and stakeholder relations Tom Hoffman were present at the Ramada Hotel in Williams Lake Tuesday morning to follow up on two multi-year Indigenous forestry partnerships. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo)

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