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First Nations take ownership stake in Hornepayne sawmill, co-gen plant

Northeast chiefs plant $4 million investment in forestry

An alliance of three First Nation communities in northeastern Ontario is taking a 30 per cent stake in a Hornepayne dimensional lumber mill and co-generation plant.

The newly formed Northeast Superior First Nation Investment LP has finalized a deal to be a partner in Hornepayne Lumber and Hornepayne Power. The group is delivering a $4 million equity investment in the two ventures.

The group consists of the Missanabie Cree, Chapleau Cree and Netamisakomik Anishinabek (Pic Mobert) First Nation.

A memorandum of agreement was signed with the mill’s principal owner, Frank Dottori, back in July. The deal was finalized Nov. 29 at a ceremony in Hornepayne.

Dottori bought the former Haavaldsrud sawmill in a bankruptcy sale in 2016. The mill and co-generation plant shuttered operations in November 2015, throwing 146 people out of work.

Production resumed last January. The operation employs 90 people.

The 10-megawatt co-gen plant, located next to the sawmill, runs on mill wood waste and generates steam power and supplies heat to the kilns. The operation employs 17.

"This is the culmination of more than a year of hard work by all the parties at the table to revitalize a bankrupt mill and a stranded co-gen asset," said David Flood, president of Northeast Superior First Nation Investment LP, in a news release.

"This model can be replicated in other communities with First Nations as an important community development catalyst. This is what full participation can look like."

Dottori, the president-CEO of both operations and the founder of Tembec, is replicating what he created 100 kilometres to the south in White River.

In 2013, he purchased a former Domtar sawmill in an ownership arrangement with the town and the nearby Pic Mobert First Nation.

"Following the successful model we created with our purchase of White River Forest Products, working with the township and the Pic Mobert First Nation, we are delighted that the local First Nations are participating as equal partners in wealth creation and resource management for Hornepayne Lumber and Power," Dottori said in a statement.

"We welcome the $4 million investment in order to address capital needs of the co-gen facility such as improving the water treatment systems, and to complete our modernization program at the mill, making us more competitive, and thereby ensuring a more stable future."

Chapleau Cree Chief Keith Corston called the scale of this First Nations investment “a first in Ontario.”

“We've got to be part of the business to be able to manage the resources within our territories and ensure the integrity of our forests. We're investing here as an investment in our people, our community, our lands, and our future."

"This is about creating resources to invest back in the healing of our people and to create opportunities for our people to live a good life," added Chief Johanna Desmoulin of the Netamisakomik Anishinabek.

"This investment creates real opportunities both at the facilities and in the forest operations for members of the First Nations," said Chief Jason Gauthier of the Missanabie Cree.

"Our populations are growing, and as the sector's workforce ages, our people will be the logical choice for employment."

At the ceremony, Dottori was presented with a star blanket by the chiefs.

Senior officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada joined Hornepayne Mayor Morley Forster for the occasion.