The mill was named by hereditary chief Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna (Louis George) and elected band chief Johnny O. Frank in a ceremony on September 16th.
The Clayoquot Forest Communities Program, which is co-managed by Ecotrust Canada and the 5 Central Region Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, supported Ahousaht in this project. Ecotrust Canada’s Tofino-based team worked with Ahousaht Councillor Harvey Robinson on developing a business plan and visiting potential mill options. FPInnovations also provided technical expertise throughout the project. In the fall of 2009, Ahousaht committed to buying an electric SELECT sawmill.
“Ahousaht has always wanted a mill,” says Satnam Manhas, General Manager, Forest Communities Program. “They knew they’d be building or renovating a lot of new homes in the next five to ten years, in addition to a number of large capital projects like a new school.”
The new construction and renovations need to address serious mould problems in many of the homes, as well as a pressing need for more housing for the growing community. The new sawmill currently employs six people and will provide job training and employment opportunities in the small Flores Island community.
“There’s the potential to employ more people, but for now they are starting small and focusing on getting good,” says Manhas. “The mill could expand if they start making value-added products such as flooring, moldings, and furniture, and selling them outside of Ahousaht.”
In the next few months, the mill will be kept busy supplying the new school project with building materials. Newhaven Construction Ltd, which is 50% owned by the Squamish Nation, has been contracted to build the school. Newhaven has helped kick-start the mill by taking on a co-management position for the first 6 months, and committing to buying locally milled products for the exterior of the building and possibly other interior features. All of the trees currently milled come from Ahousaht traditional territory.
“Terry Ward, the President of Newhaven, and Greg Louie, the Ahousaht liaison for the school project, have really championed working with Harvey Robinson get things going,” says Manhas. “The real work has only begun to develop this into a sustainable business, and we will continue to support Ahousaht to find the right expertise with FPInnovations and others to continue to make this a success.”
FP Innovations, the Ford Foundation, and the Ahousaht Nation have contributed funding towards the sawmill’s training program.