13 First Nations come together to create new forestry agreement

Representatives of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Big River First Nation, Pelican Lake First nation, Witchekan Lake First Nation and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council entered into an alliance, which in total, represents over half the allocated and available wood in Saskatchewan.

New partnership protects Indigenous assets, rights according to one signatory party

Thirteen First Nations, with over half the allocated and active wood supply in Saskatchewan, have come together in a new First Nation Forestry Alliance. (CBC)

Thirteen Indigenous communities who control more than 50 per cent of the provincial allocated and active wood supply in Saskatchewan have banded together.

An agreement signed between the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Big River First Nation, Pelican Lake First nation, Witchekan Lake First Nation and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council was formalized in early December.

Al Balisky, CEO of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council Industrial Investments, said finalizing the agreement is the first step in executing the group's vision of "supporting continued Indigenous investment and influence" in the provincial forest and climate sectors.

The partners are all shareholders of two forestry management areas, which covers a large portion of the area north and west of Prince Albert.

Together, they are responsible for some four million cubic metres of the annual allowable cut in Saskatchewan.

"Our ancestral lands extend over more than two-thirds of Saskatchewan's commercial forest zone," Montreal Lake Cree Nation chief Frank Roberts said in a press release.

"The collective strength of the 13 First Nations represented by our groups coming together will allow for the best possible outcome for all of us."

Agreement protects Indigenous rights, lands

Rob Fincati, CEO of Montreal Lake Business Ventures, said all parties involved are excited about the future after the signing of the agreement.

"We see this as a way to really assert our ancestral, territorial rights," Fincati told CBC News.

He said beyond asserting those rights, the agreement between the bands is also a way to protect their assets in dealings with forestry corporations.

A launch pad for more business ventures

The agreement is a continuation of a business relationship between bands who have historically worked together according to Fincati.

He said the Meadow Lake Tribal Council and the Prince Albert Grand Council have previously worked together as partners in different business ventures and he hoped the new forestry agreement builds on that relationship.

Meadow Lake Tribal Council chief Richard Ben said there are plans to start cooperating more in all business opportunities.

"Forestry is a good start," Ben said through a press release.

"We all have a common interest in making sure we are all on the same page when it comes to strategy, maximizing benefits and above all, taking care of the land."

Fincati said one of the objectives of the bands in the agreement was to bring a pulp mill back to the Prince Albert region.

The former pulp mill closed in 2006, affecting roughly 2,000 jobs. It was purchased by Paper Excellence in 2011 in the hopes of reopening in 2013, but those plans never materialized.

"There's a real need for a facility in the Prince Albert area," Fincati said. "It's still uncertain on when Paper Excellence is going to open or not."

A non-compete clause forbids Paper Excellence from producing kraft pulp until 2020.