By Veronica Meldrum –
The Yunesit’in Government recently began training community members in the operation of a portable saw mill as part of the Forest to Frame project. This project strives to provide employment opportunities within the community by actively involving Yunesit’in people from the “Forest” stage of harvesting to the “Frame” stage of constructing community buildings using beetle-attacked Douglas-fir from the Tsilhqot’in territory.
“We believe that the local forest should benefit our community,” said Chief Russell Myers-Ross.
When first elected, Myers-Ross knew that action needed to be taken to address the lack of housing and related housing issues in his community. “There was no funding. There was no ratified housing policy,” explained Myers-Ross. “There was essentially no housing co-ordinator to handle the housing portfolio.” In addition to this, there was limited capacity within the community to assist with home maintenance.
In an effort to address these issues, the Yunesit’in Government initiated the First Nations Construction Industry Education program. The intention of this program is to help community members obtain the skills required to construct community buildings. So far, they have built a new health centre and are currently working on a gymnasium to accompany the school and act as a social gathering space. They have also made progress with the housing portfolio: as of 2016, the community now has a housing policy, housing committee, and housing co-ordinator.
Now, the Yunesit’in Government is training community members to manufacture wood products for their housing program. During the most recent training session, participants received hands-on instruction regarding sawmill safety and operation.
“Hands on training is always fun!” said Yunesit’in participant Aaron Frank. He also believes that the Forest to Frame project will help his community—a sentiment he shares with many of the other trainees, who take pride in the wood products they have created.
“We can turn all the lumber into building houses, building schools, and pretty much building anything you can live in,” explained Pascal Quilt, another participant in the training.
For now, the Yunesit’in sawmill is located at the Toosey Old School Training & Recreation Complex. This is an interim location for the sawmill as a decision-making process regarding where to locate the mill in Yunesit’in is underway.
The sawmill training was developed by Darryl Fincham, a sawyer with Harrop-Procter Forest Products, a small sawmill operation located in the Kootenay region, and is being delivered by both Fincham and his assistant, Rami Rothkop, the mill manager at Darryl’s workplace. The logs that the trainees are using were harvested by the Yunesit’in forestry crew, under the supervision of Ryan Grady, an RPF working for the Yunesit’in Government. For more information regarding the training or the Forest to Frame project, contact Yunesit’in Councillor Gabe Pukacz at (250) 394-4041.
Veronica Meldrum is a Yunesit’in community member who is currently in Grade 12 at Lake City Secondary School. She interviewed trainees and developed material for this article as it presented her an opportunity to practice her communication skills prior to beginning her studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.