First Nation-made wood products aiding on-reserve economic development

The purchase of Leading Edge Wood Products in Horsefly was finalized by Yunesit’in First Nation earlier this month. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Aaron Frank (left) is leading the operation of an on-reserve sawmill at Yunesit’in with Jeffan Smith and Kevin Hink. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
The on-reserve sawmill can cut numerous products that can be further refined in Horsefly by Yunesit’in Leading Edge Wood Products. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Products from Yunesit’in’s sawmill and Leading Edge operation are being used towards numerous projects within the community including this nearly completed home. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

The hum of a sawmill could be heard at Yunesit’in under sunny skies with a few clouds on a late Tuesday morning this month west of Williams Lake.

After completing seven months of training on how to operate a portable sawmill at the Old School Training and Recreation Complex in Riske Creek as part of the Forest to Frame project, Aaron Frank returned to the community as did the sawmill.

With Frank at the helm of operations, the sawmill began cutting a variety of products in mid-March after a concrete slab and roofing structure to house the sawmill were built.

Read More: Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross not seeking re-election

“I love it,” Frank said of the sawmill which has yet to be named. “We get to cut our own wood, we get to build our own homes, build our own bed and breakfast with the product we cut so it’s pretty rewarding at the end of the day.”

“That was the big picture —learning to run it and have our own people work,” he added.

Yunesit’in has a woodlot located nearly 30 kilometres away from the community which provides a variety of employment opportunities for members.

Products from the sawmill are refined further at Leading Edge Wood Products in Horsefly which Yunesit’in First Nation recently purchased. The facility also has a kiln.

The wood has already been used in the building of one home at Yunesit’in, as well as the construction of a three-bedroom guest lodge which is anticipated to be completed before the end of the year.

Read More: Yunesit’in Government receives NDIT funding toward to new guest lodge

“I think it’s been a long time in the making,” said Yunesit’in Chief Russell Myers Ross of the community purchasing Leading Edge Wood Products.

“It fits with everything we’re doing in terms of building our own houses.”

Before the purchase was finalized earlier this month, Yunesit’in Government councillor Gabe Pukacz spent three months at the facility located two kilometers east of Horsefly to learn more.

Myers Ross said they have retained former owner Konrad Laffer to help provide further training at the Yunesit’in Leading Edge Wood Products which could provide immediate employment to six community members.

He estimates Yunesit’in is in immediate need of 30 on-reserve homes, and said they hope to be able to build four to six homes per year.

Read More: Wood waste recovery a key focus for First Nation joint venture company

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