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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

A cut of the action

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower.
The Globe and Mail, November 26, 2001

Part 1 of 8: 'It turned a lot of people into hard workers''


Wabigoon The young man had to go. He was frequently late for work and seldom showed up at all the day after he and the boys went into Dryden for their weekly bowling night.

Yes, he was connected to the chief. But the problems persisted even after he had been warned by his boss and told to sober up when his marriage failed. So when his co-workers at Canada's only native-run tree nursery took a vote, the decision was unanimous. The young man had to go.

"We're under a microscope here," Roddy Brown says of the boyhood friend and former hockey teammate he had to push out the door.

At 27, Brown is having to bridge two cultures, two centuries and many more ambitions as his once-isolated community tries to take control of its economy, and forests. He refuses to discuss the dismissal, which others on the reserve talk about, but admits he has lost friends in the process. He's also gained a glimpse of his reserve's greatest hope.

Since opening its multimillion-dollar tree nursery last year, the Wabigoon First Nation has seen a new business culture roll over its lakeside reserve. Where people once took work casually - and welfare cheques regularly - they are now told to be on the job at 8 a.m., or lose it. When new orders for seedlings come in, staff are expected to stay late and fill them. And when other nurseries in the thick forest lands around Dryden cut their prices, they are expected to find ways to follow suit.

"They are being watched. We are being watched," says Erika Mitani, the expert tree grower the Wabigoon band hired to get the nursery up and running. "It turned a lot of people into hard workers."

That a Dryden woman and Ojibwa men from Wabigoon are working together to build a company - on the reserve, no less - would have been unheard of a generation ago. That they are doing it with the help of a once-despised paper mill - the same one that poisoned local native people a generation ago - speaks volumes more. It demonstrates just how much the different cultures of Northwestern Ontario, a place once known as Alabama of the North, are coming together.

So often associated with despair, the first nations are looking to big business for a way out. And big business is looking to them for a way to expand.

To people on both sides, it seems like an ideal fit - except in Wabigoon, where the tree farm is forcing a community to rethink its very identity.

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 8):


Photo Essay
Sowing and Reaping


1. 'It turned a lot of people into hard workers'
An isolated community tries to take control of its economy and forests

2. A road that moves back in time
A reserve with a nursery that looks like a new-age sports arena

3. The new native entrepreneur
'It kind of makes you wonder what will happen when all this is gone'

4. The tree nursery
The science of silviculture and motivating people

5. 'I don't look at them as different any more'
The nursery's immigrant chief who married a Japanese-Canadian

6. The chief's sell
People wondered, `Why are they offering this to us? It's a big corporation. What do they want?'

7. 'No doubt there's been a cultural barrier historically'
Weyerhaeuser moves in with plans of expansion
8. The way Wabigoon does business
'People are very willing to work, and very eager to work. And they're happy when they work.'


 
 

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