UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 6 | April
First Nations Foresters Foster New Awareness
UBC initiative bridges the gap between First Nations communities
and B.C. Forestry industry.
By Helen Lewis
For generations, Canada's First Nations people have had little
or no say in the future of their ancestral forests. But if UBC's
Gordon Prest has his way that will never happen again.
Of the 3,000 Registered Professional Foresters in B.C., fewer
than 10 are First Nations people, and less than one per cent of
aboriginal post-secondary students are taking natural resources-related
studies. Until now, few First Nations people have been involved
in high-level resource management activities.
As aboriginal rights and title are negotiated in B.C., the role
and influence of First Nations people in managing natural resources
has increased dramatically, Prest says.
This has created a critical need for professionally trained First
Nations foresters and natural resource managers for effective decision
"My primary role is to develop a recruitment plan to increase
the participation of First Nations students in undergraduate degree
programs. They'll become professional foresters, working in the
best interests of First Nations, government and industry,"
says Prest, a member of the Stó:lõ nation in Chilliwack,
who has worked in the forestry industry and forestry education all
As First Nations Forestry co-ordinator in UBC's Faculty of Forestry,
he is using education to help bridge the gap between First Nations
communities and the B.C. forestry industry.
Prest says UBC's forestry faculty will play a pivotal role in
promoting understanding and co-operation between the parties by
implementing its new First Nations Forestry Initiative. The Initiative
is designed to increase the involvement of First Nations students
in degree programs, develop First Nations curriculum in forestry
programs, and create greater awareness of First Nations issues and
perspectives among faculty members and students.
"Before 1994 only two self-identified First Nations people
graduated from this faculty, but through this initiative we have
10 who have already graduated with forestry degrees and 20 First
Nations students presently enrolled in undergraduate forestry degree
programs. "It's important to incorporate First Nations awareness
into our curriculum so that the students - both First Nations and
non-First Nations - understand it because they're the ones who will
be dealing with it in the trenches," he says.
"I'm working with the Faculty of Forestry and the First Nations
communities, creating awareness of issues on both sides and bridging
the gap in communications. It's so interesting because it's all
"I see this as leading to less adversarial relationships
between First Nations people and the forestry industry in the future.
We're taking positive steps to resolve issues, and working together
to create better understanding."
Prest has been involved in forestry all his life, working first
with his father, a logging contractor, then for forest companies
as a logger and timber cruiser. In 1962 he joined the B.C. Forest
Service as an assistant ranger, and was promoted to Deputy Ranger,
Forest Ranger, then Forest Operations Superintendent before leaving
the service in 1987.
"I was one of the first people with aboriginal ancestry to
work at that level of the forest service, and to a large degree
I did feel isolated because when I joined in the early '60s, the
issue of aboriginal rights and title wasn't even on the radar screen.
It was unfulfilling because I wasn't able to create much impact,
working as one person in an entity that didn't recognize aboriginal
rights at the time.
"I thought, if I can't bring the parties together on First
Nations issues, am I being effective? Maybe I'd have more impact
through education," he says. "I see education as a common
ground where we can learn more about First Nations and forestry
issues, and about how we're going to live together in this province."