Growing Canada’s Green Economy, with Indigenous Leadership at the Centre

Feb 28, 2023 | Canada's Forest Trust Corporation | OPED | News

Growing up in the north has been an incredible privilege, so much so that after 30 years, I’ve returned to help repatriate our First Nation, Sand Point, located on the southeast shores of Lake Nipigon. The people of Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek have been occupying these lands since time immemorial. In more recent times, the people of Sand Point worked as commercial fishermen, trappers, loggers and fur traders. Our homes were burned to the ground in the late 50’s forcing us to leave our community. These lands were only returned to our care in 2010. 

Let’s go back to when I decided to attend Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology.  

It made sense to me. My grandfather was a logger as was my dad, and I wanted to pursue a career as a conservation officer. My first role out of Sault College as one of the few Indigenous forest technicians, especially when you compared the numbers to my non-Indigenous college friends, placed me in a unique position: a First Nation Teck, working for Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Service (NRCan-CFS) assisting Indigenous communities throughout northern Ontario. It had everything I needed to shape my future into where I am today, the Chairman of Canada’s Forest Trust.  

I don’t plan on wasting this investment that my community has largely supported.  

I witnessed firsthand the hardship and beauty of my community and the intersection with our natural environment and our forests. I witnessed terrible poverty, as well as family and community coming together to take care of and benefit from our forests. I knew that my journey had just begun and that the centre of gravity would be my community and that the natural resources would make up the practical matter.  

Since starting out, I’ve been blessed to lead in many roles, from working as the business and negotiation lead for my community, the former president and CEO for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business to numerous board positions from Ontario Power Generation, Noront Resources, the Institute for Corporate Directors and Suncor. These experiences have also shaped me, but more importantly, given me incredible opportunities to meet national leaders from all stripes, sectors and regions of our country as well as internationally. Working around the table with environmental groups, Indigenous organizations and communities, resource-based companies, and finance as well as contributing volunteer time and participating in speaking engagements, has given me a front-row seat, a unique view if you will, of the trials and tribulations of diversity and balance at work.  

Our country has what it takes to find and travel a path where we can thrive both environmentally and economically with our natural resources and Indigenous leadership at the centre.  

When Gary Zed approached me to learn more about Canada’s Forest Trust and his bold vision for meeting the two billion trees challenge and beyond through the establishment of Smart Forests, I was hooked. He understood that First Nations and Métis people would be key to the establishment and continued care for our forests. The world’s future rests on an economic transformation that is low carbon, resource efficient and equitable. For Canada, it is a critical tenant of meaningful economic reconciliation

I look forward to working with Indigenous communities across Canada to develop respectful, collaborative and innovative partnerships that see the original stewards of Canada’s forests remain leaders and decision-makers in their restoration and preservation.

The relationships that are formed from this work as well as the impact of community engagement, will be truly transformational for our country. I’m hoping to stick around for another 30-plus years to witness nature’s healthy return along with her beautiful dividends. 

We are just getting started.