Forest industry has addressed systemic racism for decades with some success—but more work needed

By Tony Kryzanowski

The issue of systemic racism and working toward minimizing its influence on the day-to-day operations of forest companies is nothing new for the industry—and I think overall there has been a strong desire to create more of an inclusive environment largely driven by economics and frequent interaction, particularly between people of European descent and First Nations.

Fundamentally, the interaction always works best when there is mutual respect. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there will always be agreement, and that is natural, as long as the position of the parties involved is reasonable and discourse takes place in a respectful manner.

Is the situation perfect? Of course not. I can’t speak for the internal workings of individual forest companies at the office level. Perhaps there are situations where companies could do a better job of working toward more racial diversity in that area. However, at the field level, my experience is that generally there is strong encouragement for a racially diverse workforce.

One of the leaders for greater Aboriginal involvement in the forest sector has been the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) in Saskatchewan, through its industrial investments division. It owns NorSask Forest Products, MLTC Northern Trucking and NorSask Transport, and Polar Oils. Within NorSask, MLTC also owns Mistik Management, a woodlands management company.

One statement I remember when meeting with the Chief about 30 years ago was that the Council had taken the position that they would not take shortcuts for more of their First Nations members to get jobs in their ventures. Potential employees had to have the skills or the training for a particular job, or they would not be hired. That position struck me as rather harsh at the time, but it has helped to sustain their economic ventures in the forest sector over time. MLTC is still a strong participant in the Meadow Lake and area economy today, with a significant biomass power project underway.

Another First Nations participant that I encountered in my early years reporting on the industry is the Cree Nation of Waswanipi in Quebec, which today owns and operates Nabakatuk Forestry Products and the Nabakatuk INCI sawmill, along with many other economic ventures, in co-operation with a number of other First Nations communities.

Recently, Western Forest Products and Huumiis Ventures Limited Partnership, owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, came to an arrangement where the First Nation acquired a majority interest in TFL 44 Limited Partnership, which owns Tree Farm Licence 44, and an ownership interest in a new limited partnership that will own the Alberni Pacific Division Sawmill in Port Alberni, B.C.

Finally, a Manitoba First Nations economic enterprise called Nekoté and Canadian Kraft Paper have formed a new company under a 50-50 partnership called Nisokapawino Forestry Management Corporation to co-manage 8.7 million hectares of boreal forest in northern Manitoba near The Pas. Nisokapawino is Cree for “two standing together,” and evokes a meaning that is deeper than partnership. Nisokapawino operates within a tenure designated as Forest Management Licence 2. It is the largest forest tenure in North America.

This is a very small sampling of First Nations involvement in the forest sector. Their participation stretches to nearly every province in Canada. There are also many Aboriginally-owned and operated logging and mill yard management companies that have been hired by forest companies to assist in their wood harvesting, delivery and yard management operations.

What has helped to build bridges in the working forest—particularly between First Nations and forest companies—is participation in certification programs like the Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and Canadian Standards Association. A fundamental requirement in all these certification programs is active engagement with communities where companies harvest their wood resources to earn and maintain product certification. In this case, both the marketplace and certification organizations have helped to guide the building of these bridges, leading to greater participation and integration of First Nations workers within the forest sector.

But challenges remain. Although there is greater First Nations participation, individual business enterprises in the forest tend to be almost entirely Caucasian or First Nations. While there is some racial integration within enterprises, sadly, it is not particularly widespread, and I think this fits within the definition of systemic racism being practiced by both identifiable groups. There is a tendency with both Caucasian and First Nations enterprises to want people of their own race working within those organizations. This is a trend that perhaps business owners and human resources professionals should consider in their hiring practices to improve racial diversity.

Systemic racism throughout our society in all sectors comes as no surprise to me. As long as I have lived, there has been an undercurrent of it, particularly in who gets hired, and I often wondered how long it would take for Canada as a nation to seriously address this issue. Perhaps we have finally started by acknowledging that it exists.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

On the Cover:
The forest industry, from equipment dealers to loggers to sawmills, have new protocols to deal with related to COVID-19. With the forest industry having been declared an essential industry, loggers continue to provide mills with much-needed timber at a time when lumber is in high demand, hitting record prices. In this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, we take a look at how equipment dealers are making sure their customers, the loggers, get the service they need safely, and efficiently. (Cover photo courtesy of Lusted Logging, Cawston, B.C.)

Traction for Yukon’s forest industry
The Yukon Territory’s forest industry is getting some traction these days thanks to a government plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, giving a push to the move to wood-based biomass heat and energy production.

Big-time B.C. added value—with Mass Timber
A new $35 million production facility is nearing completion in B.C.’s West Kootenay region, a project that will take family-owned Kalesnikoff Lumber into a brand new—and exciting—market: Mass Timber.

Quebec’s Fortin Family: a forestry legacy
Although there are now multiple generations of the Fortin Family involved in the family business—Y.P.C. Contracting—company founder Paul-Henri Fortin is still engaged in the operation, at the age of 78.

Cutting for canoes …
Gerard Ostroskie’s small sawmill operation in Ontario has a strong focus on increasing grade and value, and has developed an interesting niche market: producing cedar cuts specifically for canoe builders.

Team logging approach pays off
The harvesting/forwarding team approach of Eric Boissonneault and Marcel Coutoure works very well, resulting in a very productive flow of wood in Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscaminque region—and backed up by solid equipment support.

Equipment dealers dealing with COVID-19
It’s shaping up to be a challenging year for the forest industry, with the COVID-19 situation affecting all sectors, from the sawmills through to the forest, and logging operations. We asked several major equipment dealers how they are working with the current COVID-19 situation—and what they have in the works for new logging equipment for loggers.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories the from Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
The forest industry has addressed systemic racism for decades with some success, but more work is needed, says Tony Kryzanowski.

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