Government Commitments


First Nations take the lead

April 15, 2024

Insights from B.C. delegation’s Japan mission 

Bruce Ralston Minister of Forests (in blue) tour Wing Shiroi 2×4 Panel Plant in Shiroi City, Japan. Photo courtesy Ministry of Forests. 

NationTalk: Canadian Forest Industries (CFI) – By Special to CFI: Forestry, by its very nature, is intimately interconnected with the land and its custodians – the First Nations peoples whose stewardship spans generations. For far too long, Indigenous voices have not been at the forefront in discussions concerning the management and utilization of forest resources. In recent years, however, the forestry sector has witnessed a significant shift toward inclusivity and recognition of the Indigenous voice to help shape its future.

This transition was highlighted by the participation of First Nations in the delegation from B.C., including members from the BC First Nations Forestry Council (BCFNFC), affirming the essential role of First Nations in shaping the future of forestry, not only in B.C., but on a global scale.

Tokyo was the centre point for discussions surrounding the future of forestry from Dec. 10-14, 2023, marking the 100th anniversary of timber trade between Canada and Japan. The mission extended beyond commemoration with an aim to bolster ongoing Japan program initiatives geared toward exploring new market opportunities, fostering engagement with the Japanese delegation and government officials to advocate for increased wood utilization and reaffirm trade partnerships. The mission highlighted the dynamic evolution of forestry practices and critical importance of integrating Indigenous wisdom, culture, and expertise into decision-making frameworks.

BCFNFC CEO Lennard Joe noted, “First Nations people are no longer bystanders; we are emerging as leaders in the global conversation on forestry and reconciliation. As we step into the room, we carry with us the weight of responsibility and the power to shape a more sustainable future for our generations.”

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy and a vital economic partner for Canada. Particularly in the forestry sector, Japan is an important market, utilizing substantial volumes of structural lumber and high-value wood products for construction purposes. Japan ranks as B.C.’s second-largest export market for lumber, offering lucrative profit margins across various wood product categories. In 2022 alone, B.C. softwood exports to Japan amounted to one million cubic metres, valued at $741 million.

(L-R) Harlen Schillinger, First Nations Centre of Excellence; Lynda Price, chief of Ulkatcho First Nation; Dan Macmaster, BCFNFC; John Jack, Huu-ay-aht First Nation. Photo: Katie Robertson.

“The Japan mission was definitely a great opportunity for the Indigenous people of B.C. to share with the Japanese industry why forestry is so important to First Nations peoples: that our DNA is in every piece of wood that they receive. It is a part of us, our heritage, and our history,” said Joe.

BCFNFC directors Dan Macmaster and Mike Kelly represented the organization and the more than 200 First Nations communities in B.C. Presentations and discussions were led by a panel including Macmaster, Steven Hofer, president and CEO of Western Forest Products, and Chief Councillor John Jack of Huu-ay-aht First Nations. They delved into the details of shared stewardship models and showcased examples of successful partnerships between First Nations and industry stakeholders.

“Our objective was to showcase First Nations’ involvement in forestry to the Japanese, emphasizing that this involvement doesn’t hinder progress but rather enhances the consistent and reliable flow of wood fibre, which is good for everyone. While negative news about our forestry sector can often dominate headlines globally, oftentimes people don’t see how resilient B.C.’s forestry sector is,” said Macmaster. “While normally my role is on the ground working with our forestry crews, participating in this opportunity and sharing all the innovative and collaborative things happening in the forest industry was truly rewarding. And despite the diverse backgrounds of the presenters, we shared a unified message: let’s continue building partnerships and prioritizing quality lumber that meets Japan’s high standards.”

Macmaster shared the work undertaken by the Osoyoos Indian Band and highlighted significant advancements in partnerships between First Nations, government, and forest companies. These collaborations are strengthening and enabling the co-management of forests, enhancing access to fibre for sawmills, bolstering long-term resilience against wildfires and insect epidemics, and fostering sustainable land management practices. With 204 bands in B.C. alone, Macmaster noted that while the BCFNFC doesn’t speak for each one individually, it ensures their voices are heard and reflected in policies and economic processes.

“It’s vital for the Japanese to understand the positive role First Nations play in B.C.’s forestry landscape. And while engaging with different cultures can be a new experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of interesting questions from the Japanese delegation. Their receptiveness to our presentations and their comments on Canada’s reliability left us relieved and affirmed,” said Macmaster. 

“Through the inclusion of First Nations in this mission, the B.C. government and industry alike recognize the importance of First Nations involvement in forestry. Moving forward, I hope to see First Nations representation in every mission, as their inclusion is not only beneficial but necessary.”

Kelly reflected on the experience and emphasized the vital role of such opportunities to amplify Indigenous voices and advocate for sustainable forestry practices. He highlighted the parallel between the Japanese demand for high-quality wood in their building materials and the longstanding principles of First Nations communities in B.C., emphasizing sustainability, quality, and respect. He underscored the alignment between the work ethic of the Japanese and the values upheld by First Nations, making the collaboration, in his mind, a natural fit.

3.jpg: Dan Macmaster at the Obayashi Gumi Port Plus 11-storey mass timber building, learning about cross-laminated timber and the regulations in Japan. Photo: Katie Robertson.

“The Japan mission was not just about showcasing our wood products; it was about sharing our values,” Kelly remarked. “Just as the Japanese demand high-quality lumber and wood products through sustainable means, so do First Nations. It was an honour to be a part of this delegation, representing First Nations in B.C. and living out this new future where Indigenous voices are not only heard but integral to shaping forestry practices.”

The BCFNFC believes the Japan mission must serve as a catalyst for broader systemic change. First Nations are finally in the room, at the table, a part of the conversations with the opportunity to help carry the responsibility of taking action on climate change and doing the work with a generational mindset. Having First Nations involved in the local and international conversations to help inform governance structures and policy frameworks is essential to ensure sustained progress and meaningful impact.

Reiterating the importance of the mission to Japan as a first step toward the inclusion of Indigenous voices in forestry, Joe explained, “Inclusion isn’t just about being present; it’s about actively participating and taking on the responsibility that comes with it. As we engage with global partners like Japan, we bring our insights, our knowledge, and our ancestral connection to the forests. Together, we can build relationships grounded in respect and reciprocity, forging a path toward mutual prosperity and environmental stewardship.”


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