Northern Ontario First Nations sign Ogoki forest management deal

A development corporation comprising Eabametoong, Marten Falls, and Aroland First Nations will manage the forest for two years with a view to signing a long-term agreement.

'a major milestone for our communities in the Ogoki,' development corporation GM says

Until recently, Ontario has issued long-term sustainable forest licenses to mills, and frequently, First Nations felt they were denied meaningful consultation, said Jason Rasevych, interim general manager of the Agoke Development Corporation. (Submitted by Anthony Taylor)

Three First Nations in northern Ontario have signed an agreement with the provincial government to manage the Ogoki Forest.

The Agoke Development Corporation, a partnership between Eabametoong, Aroland and Marten Falls First Nations, has obtained an interim agreement known as a forest resource licence that it hopes will pave the way for a long-term agreement.

"What we look at today is a major milestone for our communities in the Ogoki," said Jason Rasevych, the economic development manager and adviser for Matawa First Nations Management and the interim general manager for the Agoke Development Corporation.  

"It's the first time ever that they're going to be leading the forest management of the Ogoki, and that involves developing the forest management plan, which is currently being done, developing annual work schedules and annual reports for the forest [and] making sure that the people in the community at the community level understand what's happening," he said.  

'able to identify sensitive areas'

"They'll be able to identify harvest areas.  They'll be able to identify sensitive areas where they do not want harvesting to occur."

Until recently, Rasevych explained, Ontario has issued long-term sustainable forest licences to mills, and frequently, First Nations felt they were denied meaningful consultation.

Lately, First Nations have begun taking a leadership role in forest management, he added, such as in the case of Lac Seul First Nation, which this month earned a 20-year enhanced sustainable forest licence for the Lac Seul Forest in partnership with Slate Falls First Nation, Domtar and Weyerhaeuser.

The sustainable forest licence for the Okogi was, until around five years ago, held by Long Lake Forest Products, but the forest returned to crown management with the bankruptcy of the company.

Sawmills need to be on board

By obtaining a two-year forest resource licence for the territory, the Agoke Development Corporation has time to build capacity to manage the forest without the long-term liabilities that a 20-year agreement would bring with it, Rasevych said.

"In order to have a long-term arrangement, we need a consuming mill that's going to be there for the long run," he explained.  "Part of the consuming mill's role is to pay a management fee back to Agoke."

The short-term agreement allows Agoke to build relationships with sawmills such as AV Terrace Bay, investigate a possible relaunch of the Nakina mill, and see if it can create sustainable partnerships, he said.

The long-term goal, he said, is to negotiate a long-term licence, possibly in partnership with a mill or mills.

For Eabametoong, Marten Falls and Aroland, Rasevych said, the current licence opens the door to finally being able to benefit from an industry that they have not, in the past, been fully able to exploit. 

"For youth or for other adults who want a career in forestry, now they're going to have an opportunity to look far into the future and say 'I could be a registered professional forester. I could work in managing the forest,'" Rasevych said.