Looking back at 2010, tells us much about 2011 for NWO


Mike ShustermanTHUNDER BAY – ‘Tis the season for reflection, with the calendar quickly counting off the remaining days until the end of 2010. It is therefore, an appropriate time for us northerners to look back over the past to gauge where we are heading for 2011.

We can agree that we started off 2010 with not a lot of anticipation of good news. A number of mills across the region had recently closed with no signs of positive news approaching to get us back to any sense of prosperity.

I can think of many sad stories that were associated with almost every town. It was a sad visit to these towns as they struggled with continuing unheard levels of unemployment. Many of our workers headed out west yet some came back, learning that the grass isn’t always greener. Families were unfortunately separated with the shift in employment opportunities.

I try to remain positive, and if you do listen closely to the encouraging news that is quietly developing in every one of our towns, it looks like 2011 will be a different year, and a positive one.

I have personal knowledge of developments in a number of our communities and although no announcements have been made in recent weeks, it seems that people are waiting until everything is in place this time, where previously any news was announced and we know sometimes the news never transpired into the promised jobs.

The province, forestry officials, and even the environmentalists have been pushing for a change to more value-added forest products, better resource usage, a change in how a forest is managed and forest resources access. Primary to this new path it appears that we are finally realizing that our First Nations do have the right to be consulted on any change in resource development. Not only do First Nations deserve and judicially own the right for consultation, they have proven that they can teach everyone to look at development in a new way, a better way.

Just look at the anxious Mining Industry and their recent developments with the increase in mineral prices and the discovery of a huge chromite deposit. All these developers are consulting with our First Nation neighbours. It is about time, and although it isn’t perfect yet, the desire appears genuine. Time will tell, and maybe at the end of 2011, true consultation with First Nations will be the standard way of doing business.

I have had personal experience over the past year with the development of First Nation Partnerships, and I can tell you that it is such a pleasant education. True community partnerships are so encouraging, and putting our heads together and acquiring everyone’s knowledge is so valuable.

As we look around the region Forestry-wise, we can see encouraging signs with Terrace Bay Pulp in operation. Abitibi Bowater’s financial outlook is positive. The province is nearing the end of the Wood Supply Competition, and the Forest Tenure changes are developing and again with First Nation involvement.

You know, I feel that without First Nation involvement the province would never achieve their published goals of providing resource access to new resource businesses, nor would they develop a forest management model that serves everyone’s interests.

Green Energy projects are underway and others are very close to becoming a reality. Employee-ownership of closed mills has started to gain some momentum and looking at re-openings in the near future with new products becoming available. As you look closer at some of these new developments, people are being employed in different roles, which is encouraging.

Infrastructure spending is making a difference on our roads, and the Mining Industry is leading the way with expansion and prospecting developments looking towards new mines.

It isn’t perfect, but compared to what 2010 was looking like a year ago, I would take our 2011 future any day. I have also learned that patience is a key characteristic required as we embrace this change. Everything takes time, and I thank my First Nation friends for helping me understand that good things are worth waiting for.

All the best for 2011, think positive thoughts and we will make it back. The signs are there.

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