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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 4 of 8: The tree nursery


Wabigoon locator When they started the nursery, Roddy Brown and Erika Mitani quickly found out how much they had to learn from each other - and how much they had to share with other communities and corporations struggling to find common ground.
At 58, Mitani has two university degrees and decades of experience in Canada's forests. At 27, Brown has a college certificate and a brief stint in a Weyerhaeuser mill to count on his résumé.

As the day begins, the two managers roll open a vertically sliding door to take stock of their crop. Before them is a green carpet of jack pine and black spruce seedlings, gently nurtured by an overhead sprinkler and 24 degrees (Celsius) of year-round heat. In the middle of the evergreen carpet, a clump of eight native youths sit picking out any defective seedlings - to the pulsating rhythms of a hip-hop CD playing on a boom box.

In the increasingly mechanized forestry industry, where computers, big machines and skilled hands are replacing the brute strength of loggers like Pitchenese, the success of the Wabigoon First Nation's venture will rest on the ability of Brown and his cousins and neighbours. If the nursery is to make money, and draw more jobs and investment to the reserve, he knows the reserve will need a new work culture. Showing up on time, for instance.


"You wouldn't believe the Christmas the kids on the reserve had."
Roddy Brown
founder of the nursery

Although drafted to help run a tree nursery, Brown admits to knowing little about the science of silviculture. He is here to motivate people. His first challenge was to work with the seven full-time employees the band had already hired, and then recruit 40 more seasonal workers for the year-end rush.

Every December, several hundred thousand seedlings must be wrapped and placed in cold storage by Christmas or perish. In its first year, the entire operation was threatened, but Brown managed to persuade half the reserve to work evenings and weekends by paying a piece rate. One woman packed 10,000 seedlings in a day, he says.

By the time the job was finished, Brown had forked out $102,000 in seasonal wages and kept the nursery alive. "You wouldn't believe the Christmas the kids on the reserve had," he says, beaming.

With his soft face, stone-washed jeans and mock turtleneck, Brown knows he must dress and act the part of two cultures. He is used to it. He spent part of his childhood in Thunder Bay, after his parents divorced, and then returned to Wabigoon for his teen years, attending high school in Dryden, just up the road from the big mill.

If he fit in with the white kids, it was because he was on the school hockey team. But he still remembers bringing his cousins from the reserve to a party in town and being told that only he would be allowed in. Instead of staying in Dryden after school, he retreated to Wabigoon, and the sort of tenuous life that had brought down so many of his elders. He found work in construction, and then took a job in a new paper mill in Ear Falls, two hours away by car. To avoid leaving his wife and baby alone, he drove there and back every day. Ear Falls "was a place I couldn't call home," he says.

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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