Forestry has always been closely tied to the land and the Indigenous peoples who have cared for it for generations. Fortunately, the forestry sector is now undergoing a significant shift towards including First Nations and Indigenous people in the important dialog of shaping forestry’s future.

A Historic Mission in Tokyo

From December 10-14, 2023, Tokyo served as the epicenter for discussions on the future of forestry. The occasion marked the 100th anniversary of timber trade between Canada and Japan and went beyond mere commemoration.

The mission aimed to strengthen ongoing initiatives in Japan, explore new market opportunities, engage with the Japanese delegation and government officials, and advocate for increased wood utilization and trade partnerships. This mission highlighted the evolving forestry practices and the critical importance of integrating Indigenous wisdom, culture, and expertise into decision-making frameworks.

First Nations’ Emerging Leadership

The participation of First Nations in the delegation from British Columbia was a significant milestone. Members from the BC First Nations Forestry Council (BCFNFC) affirmed the essential role of First Nations in shaping not only the future of forestry in British Columbia but also on a global scale.

Lennard Joe, CEO of BCFNFC, accurately stated,

“First Nations people are no longer bystanders; we are emerging as leaders in the global conversation on forestry and reconciliation. As we step into the room, we carry with us the weight of responsibility and the power to shape a more sustainable future for our generations.”

Japan: A Crucial Economic Partner

Japan, as the world’s third-largest economy, is a vital economic partner for Canada. In the forestry sector, Japan plays a significant role as an important market for structural lumber and high-value wood products used in construction.

It ranks as British Columbia’s second-largest export market for lumber, with substantial volumes of softwood exports amounting to one million cubic meters, valued at $741 million in 2022 alone.

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According to Lennard Joe, the Japan mission provided an excellent opportunity for Indigenous people in British Columbia to emphasize the importance of forestry to First Nations. He stated, “Our DNA is in every piece of wood that they receive. It is a part of us, our heritage, and our history.”

Showcasing Successful Partnerships

The mission to Japan allowed representatives from the BCFNFC, including directors Dan Macmaster and Mike Kelly, to showcase the involvement of First Nations in forestry. The presentations and discussions led by a panel of experts highlighted shared stewardship models and successful partnerships between First Nations and industry stakeholders.

Dan Macmaster, reflecting on the experience, emphasized the resilience of British Columbia’s forestry sector and the importance of showcasing First Nations’ positive role.

“While negative news about our forestry sector can often dominate headlines globally, oftentimes people don’t see how resilient B.C.’s forestry sector is.”

Macmaster also stressed the significance of building partnerships and prioritizing quality lumber that meets Japan’s high standards.

Mike Kelly highlighted the parallel between the Japanese demand for high-quality wood and the principles upheld by First Nations communities in British Columbia. He remarked,

“Just as the Japanese demand high-quality lumber and wood products through sustainable means, so do First Nations. It was an honor to be a part of this delegation, representing First Nations in B.C. and living out this new future where Indigenous voices are not only heard but integral to shaping forestry practices.”

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A Catalyst for Systemic Change

The BCFNFC believes that the Japan mission should serve as a catalyst for broader systemic change. First Nations’ inclusion in forestry discussions is crucial for taking action on climate change and working towards a sustainable future.

By participating in local and international conversations, First Nations can help inform governance structures and policy frameworks, ensuring sustained progress and meaningful impact.

Lennard Joe reiterated the importance of active participation and taking on the responsibility that comes with inclusion. He stated, “As we engage with global partners like Japan, we bring our insights, our knowledge, and our ancestral connection to the forests. Together, we can build relationships grounded in respect and reciprocity, forging a path toward mutual prosperity and environmental stewardship.”

The Japan mission was a significant step towards recognizing and amplifying Indigenous voices in forestry. It showcased the crucial role of First Nations in shaping the future of the industry, not only in British Columbia but also on a global scale.

With their wisdom and expertise, Indigenous peoples are helping to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for generations to come.