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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 6 | April 4, 2002

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 making.

"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 his life.

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 new ground.

"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."


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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