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Forestry business plan drafted.

Enhancing training opportunities to create long-term, sustainable jobs for Aboriginals in the forestry industry is the aim of a new business development program with the Mattagami First Nation near Gogama.

"This has been along time coming," says Mattagami Chief Chad Boissoneau, a self-employed forest technician. Boissoneau has been one of the main driving forces behind the First Nation community's plan to offer training for locals seeking employment in woodlands harvesting operations.

"For five years now we've done different types of training and developing of techniques that are suitable for forestry," says Boissoneau, who holds a degree in forestry and has worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources over the years on a contract basis.

The intent behind their business development strategy is to gradually wean their community off short-term government employment programs and deliver a measure of economic independence to the community through skill training.

The Mattagami First Nation is about 15 kilometres north of Gogama on Highway 144 between Sudbury and Timmins.

The band population is more than 400, with about 200 on the reserve.

For the longest time, says Boissoneau, people on the reserve working in forestry-related fields were only given seasonal work for jobs like firefighting.

In 1997 the band entered into discussions with Domtar and Tembec and expressed a desire to seek some economic and employment opportunities for its people through initiatives such as outsourcing harvesting and woodlands operations.

"(The forestry companies) told us what they needed from us to ensure we were capable," says Boissoneau.

To prepare Aboriginals to enter into the field, Boissoneau relied on his old school notes and MNR experience to write a basic resource-sampling manual, sort of a beginner's guide to the forestry industry that covers mapping, compass use, tree identification and data collection.

With subsidies from the Timmins-based Mamo-wichi-hetiwin management board, the training has expanded over time into heavy-equipment operations, Class A truck driving instruction and mechanical harvesting.

The band has drafted a business plan, preapproved by FedNor, HRDC, Indian and Northern Affairs and the Timmins Venture Centre, that includes a wish list identifying their needs and the money required to purchase equipment such as a mechanical harvester, feller-buncher and skidder.

They are also in the process of formalizing a community non-profit entity, the Gawahegawin Development Corp., which is concentrating its efforts on forestry opportunities, but looking to branch out into housing and commercial building construction.

Boissoneau says the intent of the development agency is to become a sustainable and reliable contractor with Tembec and Domtar, having already negotiated deals this year to deliver a total harvest volume of 70,000 cubic metres.

The agency has provided jobs for 10 people in cutting, skidding, slashing and delivering lengths of jack pine, spruce and balsam to mills near Gogama, Timmins and Espanola.

"As long as we can fulfill our commitment with both companies we expect to be harvesting continuously," which may lead to more jobs down the road and more equipment purchases by the band, says Boissoneau.

The community already rents or owns some harvesting equipment. In developing policies for their group, the plan is to act as a co-signer to help locals buy equipment to work for the band, as well as invest any profits garnered from these operations into subsidizing jobs for different agreements.
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 2002
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