First Nations deserve bigger role in forest management: Bombay

For Harry Bombay, it was a special kind of homecoming.
A member of the Rainy River First Nations west of Emo, Bombay has spent most of the last 20 years in Ottawa as executive director of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association (NAFA), where he’s been involved in strategic planning and the development of partnerships between First Nations and governments in the forestry industry.
Last week, he was back in the area as one of the speakers at the third-annual ManOMin Watershed Conference held in International Falls, where he gave an address entitled “Aboriginal participation in forest management in Canada.”
The thrust of his address Thursday afternoon at Rainy River Community College was directed as much towards the U.S. audience as it was Canadians, so he opened with a description of how aboriginals fit into the overall picture on this side of the border.
“Aboriginals have control over far less land in Canada than they do here,” he noted. “In fact, all Canadian reserves could fit inside the Navaho reserve in Arizona.”
The role of First Nations in forest management is further complicated by the fact natural resources fall under provincial jurisdiction while Indian Affairs is a federal ministry.
Bombay stressed the significance of Canada’s forests to the global community by pointing out Canada has 10 percent of the world’s forests, which is the third-biggest in the world (only Russia and Brazil have more).
And yet only a tiny fraction of those forests fall under aboriginal jurisdiction.
“There are 245 million hectares of forest in Canada, yet only 1.4 million are in reserves,” he stressed. Furthermore, only 8.4 percent are in currently protected areas, he added.
The contribution forestry makes to the Canadian economy is significant. According to Bombay, the forestry sector accounted for $70 billion in shipments in 1999, of which $9 billion wound up in government coffers.
The industry also employs 800,000 people in more than 1,000 businesses from coast to coast.
Yet the industry is in danger from over-harvesting, warned Bombay. Cheap exports make Canadian lumber attractive in foreign countries, but do not take into account the true cost of production.
“That is why the First Nations agree with the United States in the softwood lumber dispute,” he said. “The fees being paid do not reflect the true cost to the land.”
Bombay believes it is time for strong sustainability measures to come into place and more land should be set aside to preserve the existing stands. It is here, he says, that First Nations can make a great contribution as custodians of the land as they do now on their reserves.
As such, he’s calling for greater aboriginal presence on the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), one of several bodies which certifies the lumber has been harvested in accordance with enforced environmental standards.
Many foreign customers will not take wood or wood products that do not meet these standards. Bombay said only the FSC currently meets with the approval of NAFA.
“A forest should not be certified unless it addresses aboriginal concerns,” he argued. “The legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples to own, use, and manage their lands and resources shall be respected.”
(Fort Frances Times)