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Entrepreneur and Community Activist - Thunder Bay

No one can accuse Margaret Thomson of ignoring the opportunity to make a difference when she sees it. After nearly 15 years with the City of Thunder Bay, the Australian-born entrepreneur ventured out an started her own consulting firm, Margaret Thomson International, confident she could initiate change by helping to establish much-needed relationships between the forest industry and First Nations.

"I saw there was a unique opportunity in an area where there was very little work going on," Thomson says of her decision in 1993 to start her own consulting firm. "Most industries hadn't started to work together with First Nations in a meaningful way."

Armed with her experience in organizational reviews, strategic planning, communications and negotiations, along with the First Nations skills and training work she had carried out as a consultant in Edmonton in the 1970s, Thomson set out on a mission to bridge the gap between First Nations and industry in northwestern Ontario.

"I thought (this type of work) was long overdue," she says. "When you consider our future, it's all about community development. I saw it as (something) new and challenging, and there wasn't really anybody doing that relationship work."

Thomson has spent the past eight years working exclusively with forestry companies and First Nations across northwestern Ontario -- a venture that has resulted in new economic development and employment opportunities.

She has worked in various capacities with member First Nations of Treaty #3, Treaty #9 and the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850, as well as major forestry companies in the development of partnership initiatives for economic co-operation.

Among her more recent accomplishments is the establishment of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation's Waabigon Saaga'igan Gitigaan Tree Nursery near Dryden.

The $5.7-million, state-of-the-art tree nursery produces container stock for Bowater and Weyerhaeuser reforestation programs and has created employment for 40 to 50 seasonal workers, in addition to the eight full-time positions at the facility.

In 1997, during the construction of the Ear Falls sawmill, Thomson developed a pre-employment training program for 104 First Nations trainees. This initiative led to a significant number of people gaining employment.

Thompson was also instrumental in the program development of the first-ever Bowater First Nation Rangers Program 2000. The program was aimed at providing an opportunity for aboriginal youth from First Nation communities in the area to learn about forestry first-hand during an eight- week program.

While Thomson does not see her accomplishments as extraordinary, forestry company officials and the First Nation communities have much praise for her contributions.

Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation Chief Ruben Cantin Sr. says Thomson was instrumental in developing new business opportunities for the Wabigoon Lake First Nation.

"She played a very key role in the creation of the partnership that made our businesses in the forest industry," Cantin says. "We're very grateful to have a person like Margaret who was willing to be sensitized and understand the Anishinaabeg cultures and to understand what First Nations people are all about. She played a big role in bringing corporate thinking, and the way (Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation) wanted to do business, together to develop a partnership that would lead to opportunity."

Cantin says Thomson played "a very important role" in building business relation ships with Bowater and Weyerhaeuser (formerly Avenor) through a "communication process which culminated in the signing of letters of intent."

Namaygoosisagagun First Nation Chief Ernest Trembley also credits Thomson with being a leader for his community.

"She has done quite a bit for our community," Trembley says. "She has helped the people in the community; she has given them direction by explaining ways of doing things and giving them an option."

Thomson's work has helped Namaygoosisagagun First Nation to develop a strategic plan for the community and Trembley says she has given the residents of the Northern Ontario First Nation "a different outlook on things.

"I think she's been a real inspiration to the community," Trembley says.

Others have described the quality of Thomson's work as "excellent" and say that she is "very positive to deal with in an environment that is not always positive."

But Thomson insists the things she has done, and continues to do, are all part of her job, and she loves to do it.

"To be in business and do what you love is really rewarding," Thomson says. "You have to love working with people and believe (what you are doing) is making a difference in people's lives."

Thomson says she was "honoured" to learn she had been nominated by Cantin to receive one of Northern Ontario Business's Influential Women Awards, and says being dubbed an influential woman of Northern Ontario is more than just a title - it is a responsibility.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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