By: The Working Forest Staff
THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO — A 100% First Nations owned and operated company based in Thunder Bay has yet again received province-wide recognition. It was announced on Wednesday, February 26, 2020, that the Agoke Development Corporation (Agoke) was the recipient of the Ontario Forest Sector Champion of the Year Award at the 77th Annual Ontario Forestry Industries Association’s Meeting and Convention.
The Northern Ontario forestry enterprise owned by Aroland, Eabametoong and Marten Falls, manages the Ogoki Forest, oversees forest access road maintenance and silviculture programs while protecting culturally sensitive areas and animal habitat. For 77 years, OFIA has represented forestry companies ranging from multinational corporations to family-owned businesses that operate across Ontario. For years indigenous groups haven’t participated much in these events due to lack of involvement in forestry, Agoke Development Corporation was recognized for their achievements and contributions during the OFIA event at the One King West Hotel in Toronto, Ontario.
Jason Rasevych, Business Advisor, Agoke stated “Receiving the Forest Sector Champion of the Year Award is a major accomplishment for the company. You don’t see a lot of First Nations participation at the OFIA level, so we are blazing a trail. This award is achieved by the willingness of our First Nations and partners to come together for the greater good, to hold a collective vision, and to work hard with the solid determination to succeed.”
Colin Shawinimash, Workforce Development Officer of Agoke and Eabametoong First Nation member is thrilled the corporation is being honoured with an award. “We’re very proud,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point. This wasn’t an overnight success, there have been decades of advocacy, years of work on this file. We’ve re-defined our position in the forest sector and are on the brink of an explosion of employment and business opportunities for our members.”
The Agoke Development Corporation started in 2015 with the intent to build capacity in forest management and to maximize economic opportunities in the forestry sector. The three First Nations that own the corporation, haven’t seen many opportunities come their way in the past. In the Ogoki Forest, they set out to change that by taking Ontario’s forest tenure modernization process to the next level by securing a greater role in managing the land.
That same year, the three First Nations signed a co-operation agreement and established the Agoke Development Corporation to take on the business development on behalf of the three First Nations, a decision which has paid off in a major way. In March 2018, Agoke made headlines when it announced a forestry agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to take on management responsibilities of the crown unit. Now, for the first time, the three First Nations have a real say on what goes on in the Ogoki forest and are building forestry knowledge to further their role as stewards of the land. Agoke is driving the process and has secured the forest resource license to harvest wood, assign harvest blocks, complete compliance and monitoring of woodland operations, prepare annual work schedules and reports. Agoke is also working with partners to develop the next 10-year forest management plan for 2020-2030, which is expected to be completed this year.
Over the past three (3) years, Agoke has also successfully managed and administered the provincial road funding and advocated investment into bridge and road repairs to mitigate barriers to wood fibre for existing and new markets. Agoke is the only First Nation-owned management entity in Ontario to manage the province’s road funding for forests and is striving to include their community members in numerous aspects of forestry.
Working well with others has also proven to be a valued and necessary means of doing business. That’s certainly reflected in the fact Agoke is being recognized for the way it works with others. “It really shows the importance of collaboration and a common vision of partnerships,” stated Bill Spade, Agoke Director, Eabametoong First Nation.
Agoke took the time to build key relationships with consuming mills in the region and their efforts were successful in establishing a joint-venture agreement with the Nakina Sawmill to restart the operations which have been dormant for over a decade. “That’s very special to us,” Spade said of the deal which saw first-right-of-refusal for road building, log harvesting and delivery contracts. The Agoke Board set up a working committee that provides input into the facility’s hiring process, developing special programs for employment and training and are targeting 75% Aboriginal employment in the sawmill.
Over the next few years, Agoke is looking to expand into biomass and bio-fuel opportunities to help scale capacity for micro-grids in the Far North. With technological advancements being made, there is a huge opportunity to be innovators in renewable energy for combined heat and power in northern Ontario.
This is the 3rd year in a row that Agoke Development Corporation is winning an award. In 2018, they were recognized as Partnership of the Year at the NADF Business Awards in Timmins and in 2019, they won First Nation Business of Excellence Award at the Northern Ontario Business Awards in Sault Ste Marie.
About Agoke Development Corporation
The Agoke Development Corporation is a forestry company that consists of the Aroland, Eabametoong and Marten Falls First Nation.
About the Ogoki Forest
The Ogoki Forest is located 400 km north-east of Thunder Bay immediately east of the Wabakimi Provincial Park and is approximately 10,900 km² in size. It