The North Central Woodlands team is responsible for supplying timber to Slave Lake Veneer, Slave Lake Pulp, and High Prairie Forest Products. In that area, West Fraser operates within the traditional territories of 23 Indigenous communities. Noel Gairdner, Community Liaison, works with local trappers and represents West Fraser with those communities.
“Through my work as a Community Liaison, it’s my goal to bring together my science education and traditional knowledge,” says Noel, who has an educational background in forestry and is himself a member of the Cree and Dene/Metis. “I use my role to foster positive and productive relationships with Indigenous Communities.”
Working closely with the communities
Noel has been the liaison for a year and a half. Part of what he does is work with traditional Indigenous trappers who access traplines year-round. After speaking with the trappers, Noel shares what he learns with our Company’s operations supervisors. They discuss many topics including the location and use of cultural trails to determine how to keep access open for traditional Indigenous use.
This year, wildfires in the Slave Lake area affected many of the trappers’ traplines. West Fraser is currently undertaking fire salvage operations, and it’ll be a busy winter consulting with the trappers. Many people in the Indigenous communities lost their cabins, too. Recovery from natural disasters can also be a chance to build relationships. “This might create an opportunity where we work through the Indigenous community to supply some materials,” suggests Noel.
Another part of his job is to go to on-site visits with the trappers. First, he visits the communities and then will go on-location to identify site-specific concerns such as hunting camps, trails, or medicinal/ cultural sites. In terms of wildlife, it could mean finding moose licks, nests, or bear dens. After identifying concerns, foresters will work hard to find ways to mitigate any issues.
It’s essential for Noel to work closely with the elders in the Indigenous communities. “The elders are the community members that have the knowledge of culture and traditions. They also know the protocols and how to pass that knowledge to the community,” adds Noel.
Attending community events
The restrictions with COVID-19 have limited the amount of time Noel has been able to spend in local communities this spring, but beforehand that was involved in many community events.. For him, that connection is crucial, and he builds it by being an active participant. This winter he was involved in the Whitefish Lake First Nation ski doo rally, and he’s spoken at the Northern Lakes College during a Metis life skills training program. He’s also taken part in the grand entry at the powwow for the Slave Lake Friendship Centre Indigenous Days.
“It’s an honour to be recognized as part of the dignitaries and the acknowledgment from the people attending the event,” says Noel. He’s also attended the Bigstone Cree Nation Keepers of the Water Gathering.
“We want Indigenous communities to know that we recognize their unique relationship with the forest. It’s important to us to engage and see how we can mitigate effects on identified specific cultural and traditional use sites. We can only learn by building a strong relationship with the Indigenous communities,” says Noel.