Tapping into Talent

Canada's Indigenous Forestry Initiative (IFI)
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

As we enter Year Two of the worst pandemic in a century, the news, fortunately, isn’t all doom and gloom. For too long, forestry has been largely regarded as dominated by white males but now, in a new dispensation, the Indigenous Forestry Initiative (IFI) is challenging that notion.

The global economy continues to face tough times. In Canada, the exact amount spent on COVID-19 relief efforts – including vaccines, health care for the ill, ventilators, emergency subsidies for businesses, sickness benefits for individuals, and personal protective equipment (PPE) – is unknown. By some estimates, though, the federal government is bleeding $1.5 billion every day, and this shows no signs of trending downwards as the Omicron variant spreads and case counts keep climbing.

But although the pandemic has revealed many of our society’s structural shortcomings, including the frailty of supply chains worldwide, it has also brought opportunities for growth closer to home, especially in Canada’s resource sector.

Supporting Indigenous-led forestry
With about 43 percent of Canada’s land area covered by forests, it’s not surprising that there existed a forest industry to support the building of the nation centuries before Confederation in 1867, providing the earliest settlers with an invaluable material for construction, fuel, furniture, and more.

Evolving over the years, forestry today supports over 300,000 jobs coast to coast, provides for hundreds of communities, and adds over $26 billion every year to Canada’s economy. But like other sectors, forestry faces its share of obstacles and has done so particularly during the pandemic.

To make up for retiring workers and a general shortage of staff, other resource industries have been taking up the challenge and diversifying to future-proof their workforces. One of the most notable, mining, is looking at ways of improving its male-centric reputation and being more inclusive by hiring women at all levels, from mine sites to boardrooms. And industries such as construction are making efforts to bring on more women to fill positions in carpentering, drywalling, plumbing, and many other under-employed trades.

Last May, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan Jr., announced calls for the next round of proposals for the IFI. Recognizing the important role Indigenous communities play in the nation’s forestry sector, the proposals are aimed at supporting Indigenous participation in “forestry-related opportunities, businesses, careers and governance,” according to Natural Resources Canada.

The proposals add, “The forest sector brings value, both economically and spiritually, to Indigenous communities. This initiative builds a stronger Indigenous forest sector that thrives and sustains its economic resilience during and post-COVID 19.”

Representing a forward-thinking investment for Indigenous communities and the entire nation in a post-pandemic world, Natural Resources Canada has allocated $13 million to support Indigenous forestry projects across Canada. To date, the IFI has committed approximately $6.8 million to projects, with some $6.2 million available for the period 2021 to 2023.

In its 2019 Budget, the Government of Canada pledged funds for Indigenous forest programs to help address issues of representation in the sector, including increased gender diversity.

While the IFI brings many benefits, including greater Indigenous participation in forestry such as careers and governance, greater collaboration and investment with Indigenous persons and others involved in natural resources such as industry, stakeholders, and non-governmental organizations, only specific project types are funded.

However, these include training and forestry skills development, environmental stewardship, developing forestry-related technologies, tools and services, and others with a focus on forest resource management and clean technology.

Eligibility criteria
Although applications to the Indigenous Forestry Initiative can be made throughout the year, they are reviewed depending on availability of funds, and applicants must meet specific criteria to apply. The latest round of decisions has been delayed, but will be made available by February 22, 2022.

To be eligible, project types, recipients, and expenditures must meet certain benchmarks:

• Qualifying recipients include Indigenous communities or governments, such as Métis community organizations, self-governing First Nations, Indian Act bands, tribal councils or other similar entities such as general council, academic institutions and research associations operating with Indigenous partners, and for-profit and not-for-profit entities with 50 percent or higher Indigenous ownership.

• To receive project support, applicants must justify expenditure to support their projects (including costs) in 10 eligible categories.

• Eligible categories include training and skills development, professional and technical services, salaries and benefits, travel, costs of planning and design, and capital costs such as project-related infrastructure, machinery, equipment, and supplies, including fuel.

• Some costs – such as those related to developing the IFI Application and lobbying – are not eligible.

Like other government projects, the IFI is competition-based, and only completed applications meeting eligibility criteria including project type, eligible recipients such as national and regional Indigenous organizations, and eligible expenses to support the project will be given the green light for further assessment.

Subject matter experts such as those with an in-depth knowledge of forestry, bio-products manufacturing, finance, and business development, will sit on panels under the oversight of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to evaluate the merit of projects.

“To the extent possible, such panels will be gender-balanced, majority Indigenous, and will include Indigenous youth developing skills in one or more of the expert subject areas,” according to the latest version of the Indigenous Forestry Initiative.

Driving inclusion
Along with the IFI, the recent renewal of other Strategic Partnership Initiatives (SPIs) – namely the Full Forest Value Initiatives and the True North Treasure Initiative – will see another $10 million aimed at creating other economic opportunities in Canada, especially in the mining sector.

“Renewing the True North Treasure and Forest Full Value initiatives will support continued Indigenous economic growth in Quebec, specifically in the mining and forestry sectors,” Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu said in a media release.

The $4.5 million True North Treasure Initiative – commencing its fourth phase with investments from 2022 to 2025 – will further support relationships between Indigenous communities and private/public sector partners.

The $4.5 million Forest Full Value Initiative, with investments also extending from 2022 to 2025, will assist Indigenous communities in Quebec to “leverage forest resources in a sustainable manner,” foster important partnerships, create jobs, “and improve their economic activities related to the food and energy sectors while honouring their cultures and traditions.”

For years, Canada’s forest sector has played a key role in the success of the nation’s economy, providing employment, social, and environmental benefits. Through the Indigenous Forestry Initiative, the country will continue advancing its position right here at home.

For more information on Canada’s Indigenous Forestry Initiative, visit: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science-and-data/funding-partnerships/funding-opportunities/forest-sector-funding-programs/indigenous-forestry-initiative/13125



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