New forestry alliance exploring opportunities in Prince Albert area

New alliance made up of 13 First Nations holds over half of the allocated and active wood supply in Saskatchewan hopes to create jobs, ensure sustainable forests

A new partnership between 13 First Nations hopes to help “influence, initiate and execute” potential opportunities in the forestry sector within the communities’ ancestral lands, including potential development in the Prince Albert area.

The forestry agreement, announced Thursday, brings together Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Big River First nation, Pelican Lake First Nation, Witchekan Lake First Nation and Meadow Lake Tribal Council.

“An empowered collection of 13 First Nations will exercise their financial resources to leverage and partner with new business interests while maintaining the traditional use integrity of their ancestral lands,” a press release said.

 Work on the agreement began several years ago with the intention of uniting the groups under one alliance.

“Our intention is to build on the province’s commitment to more fully engage the traditional knowledge, financial resources and investment interests of the First Nations,” Montreal Lake Business Ventures CEO Robert Fincati said.

“This agreement will help us to be more fully engaged in forest businesses, creating new opportunities for our nations.”

Business arms of Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Agency Chiefs Tribal Council and Meadow Lake Tribal Council are First Nations shareholders of Sakâw Askiy Management Inc., which is the forest licensee for the Prince Albert Forest Management Agreement Area (FMA). A subsidiary of Meadow Lake Tribal Council is the licensee of the Mistik FM, located north and west of the Prince Albert FMA.

Prior to Sakâw Askiy, Weyerhauser and Domtar were the owners of the forest management agreement area. According to Fincati, the province awarded Sakâw Askiy the wood allocations because the First Nations represented are in the heart of the forest.

“They awarded the allocations through duty to accommodate to allow Montreal lake and the Agency Chiefs to be able to participate in the forest economy,” he said.

“What we’re doing here is we’re aligning the interests of those various shareholders because in strength there’s power. We’ll be looking at different ways we can further our participation in the forest economy in Saskatchewan.”

The licences and commercial arrangements owned by the 13 First Nations who signed the deal include an excess of four million cubic metres of annual allowable cut, more than 50 per cent of the allocated active wood supply in Saskatchewan.

“Like everyone who signed this agreement, we are focused on the long-term economic wellbeing of our membership,” said Big River First Nation chief Bruce Morin in a press release.

“We foresee several forestry-related opportunities in the future and we want to strategically engage those opportunities to maximize benefits. We are proud to be part of this agreement and excited for the future.”

Fincati said the group is exploring the possibility of opening a mill, a hardwood or a pulp plant in the Prince Albert area.

“Certainly there’s a big gap in forestry in Saskatchewan, particularly on the central-east side,” he said.

“In the Prince Albert area, there’s no hardwood facility. Paper Excellence has said they’re going to reopen the pulp mill, but it’s still uncertain whether that’s going to happen or not.”

Fincati indicated the group is hopeful Paper Excellence does reopen the mill once the non-compete clause ends in two years. Even if they do, there’s still the possibility to add a hardwood processing facility, he said.

There are also potential opportunities in the bioenergy area the alliance is exploring.

“We’re going to be exploring a wide range of opportunities,” he said, adding that creating employment opportunities for Indigenous people in the forest area and ensuring sustainability are two of the alliance’s goals.