Situated on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, the Eshkawkogan Timber Co. is an incorporated, privately owned forestry operation specializing in silvicultural and harvesting operations within the North Shore, Spanish and Sudbury forest management areas.
However, to its owner, Gary (Josh) Eshkawkogan, the company’s primary goal has always been to provide young Aboriginals with the opportunity to become self-sufficient.
“There’s not too much opportunity on reserve lands for any type of forestry aspects of employment,” Eshkawkogan says. “Without discriminating against any other race in regards to people who want to work, our goal was to establish an all-Native silvicultural workforce that can do the complete cycle, in regards to the forestry aspect and management. We’re slowly building to that capacity.”
Since it was first established in 1994 as a single proprietorship concentrating on independent harvesting operations, the company has diversified into silvicultural operations to include juvenile spacing and tree planting, and training in cable skidder operations, professional chainsaw operations and pre-commercial thinning.
As a result, its workforce and workload have doubled within the last few years, and currently there are 78 seasonal workers, 75 per cent of whom are Aboriginals.
Eshkawkogan also notes the forest industry is facing an aging population, and that downsizing is becoming a problem. As a result, he believes special attention should be paid to youth, especially Aboriginals.
“That’s the unique part of our company,” he adds. “We deal with other First Nations’ youth to try to give them that training. We’re trying to teach them the work ethic so they get up and do the work every morning. It’s important for them to understand that they have to produce to be able to say that you can make money on some of these jobs.”
Ultimately, Eshkawkogan feels the life lessons he and the rest of his co-workers are trying to instill in the youth are paying off in a big way.
“It’s very rewarding to see young people be able to say that they’ve earned that dollar,” he says. “Teaching life skills is key, in regards to trying to get a workforce established, and to get them to understand that it takes a lot of energy to get yourself motivated to try and make a dollar at the end of the day.”
When the accredited trainer of the Ontario Forestry Safe Workplace Association looks into the eyes of his youthful workforce, he sees himself in them and remembers what it was like for him to grow up as part of the Aboriginal peoples.
“I was always a forester,” he recalls. “My grassroots are in forestry. My dad was a harvester. It sort of just runs in the family.”
The owner of the Eshkawkogan Timber Co. has been involved in the forestry business for over 20 years. He first started studying forestry while in school in the early 1970s. Before long, he became interested in the union labour movement, but he soon found himself motivated to get back to his grassroots and start his own company. The first few contracts were relatively small ones, including one with Domtar Inc.
Initially, the company asked him to do some brush cutting for them.
However, as the years went by and word spread about the timber company, Domtar Inc. continued to come back and sign more contracts with Eshkawkogan.
The company has dealt with Domtar Inc. for the last six years. Their latest agreement was a three-year agreement valued at approximately $500,000 for the timber company. Although Eshkawkogan was reluctant to speak about the kind of work associated with the contract, he did say the contract calls on the timber company to do “whatever they need done in respect to forestry.”
“Domtar Inc. is our main priority,” Eshkawkogan says. “They’re the platinum clients, based on the volume of employment they provide.”
“They have such a large volume of other aspects of forestry that we’ve made a lot of investment and time to build our capabilities of whatever they wanted done,” he added. “That’s why we’ve dealt really closely with their core management.”
Ultimately though, Eshkawkogan, who is also an approved trainer with the Ministry of Training College and Universities, has learned a valuable lesson which he hopes others will take to heart.
“It’s not about the political glory of all First Nations working; it’s the political glory of providing that work for the First Nations,” he says. “I think a lot of people need to understand that the younger generation now needs a lot of assistance to understand the life skills of growing up and trying to make a living at something besides living off the streets. They need to be given at least the opportunity to excel in something that they can do. Young people need more encouragement.”