Not long ago, the number of professional aboriginal foresters could be counted on one hand, but not anymore.
Matt Wealick, the chief operations officer of the Ch-ihl-kway-uhk Forestry Company, a branch of the Ts'elxweyeqw Tribe (Chilliwack), which has a number of forestry interests including a tree farm license and forest management agreement, was the province's 13th aboriginal forester.
Terry Teegee became the 26th aboriginal when he became a forester. The elected chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council is also the president of LTN Contracting (a joint venture company owned by Lheidli Tenneh First Nation and Roga Contracting) and was once the forestry co-ordinator for his home Takla First Nation.
Both spoke at the Association of BC Forestry Professionals conference in Prince George on Wednesday. The ABCFP disclosed that there are now more than 100 certified members who self-identify as being aboriginal.
"It is an option for First Nations to manage their own natural resources," said Wealick at the Association of B.C. Forestry Professionals conference Wednesday in Prince George.
"Aboriginal youth is the fastest growing demographic in Canada, so [certified forestry professions are] a great opportunity," said Teegee. "And not just for forestry. A lot of the skills taught for mining or forestry or other natural resources industries are transferable back and forth."
Aboriginal involvement in the natural resource economy is on the swift rise, said Teegee.
Duz Cho Logging of the McLeod Lake Band and Falcon Drilling of Prince George are award-winning Aboriginal business ventures.
Duz Cho Construction is another McLeod Lake Band company doing much of the on-site work preparing the Mount Milligan Mine site.
LTN/Roga supplies about 600,000 cubic metres of timber to Canfor's sawmilling operations in the Prince George area.
The Conifex forest company is partially owned by First Nations interests, and there is a direct partnership agreement between Lakes District First Nations and Hampton Affiliates for their milling operations in the Burns Lake area.
CNC's forestry program is, said officials at the conference, 25 per cent filled with aboriginal students and the
Teegee said he was witness to great acrimony during his formative years, with aboriginal blockades of railroads and roads to prevent logging in traditional territories. There was virtually zero consultation with First Nations at the time, despite there being no treaties with B.C. or Canada to allow for such industry. That problem has not been fully erased, he said, but conditions are slowly improving.
Even when they do improve, the big players still benefit, he said.
"When the provincial government implemented their tenure take-back [clawing back timberlands promised to big forestry corporations and allocating them instead to affected First Nations], they paid cash compensation to those companies, then First Nations managed the resource but where did they have to go to sell the timber? - the same forest companies, who got the wood for a lot cheaper than if they'd have logged it themselves," Teegee said.