By Emily Stonehouse
The best place to start is the beginning.
And that’s what Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve is doing by committing to the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program in mid-January of 2023. “We recognize that there is a big need for us to do better,” Malcolm Cockwell, the managing director of Haliburton Forest told the Echo.
The three-year program is split into equal parts, starting with internal planning, then moving on to setting specific and measurable goals, and finally concluding with outreach. “That’s our time to be actively reaching out and establishing relationships,” said Cockwell.
This initiative is spearheaded by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), and is designed as a program that any organization can jump into without any prior knowledge. This concept was what appealed to management of the Forest. “You can have all these intentions, but this particular topic is extremely complicated,” shared Cockwell. “It’s awkward if you don’t know where to start.”
Haliburton Forest is currently managing 250,000 acres in Ontario, and was the first company in Canada to be recognized as “sustainable” by the Forest Stewardship; a title it carries to present day.
The Forest is continuing to grow, which Cockwell shared was the primary incentive to kick Aboriginal relationships into high gear. “As we grow year over year, our mandate to do things right needs to get higher and higher,” he said.
While the commitment to the PAR program is relatively fresh, Cockwell said that he is already learning new things which he can incorporate into their everyday practices, such as land acknowledgments, qualifications, and ensuring that all internal policies are equitable and respectful.
He shared that a major learning curve is applying the right type of education for the staff at Haliburton Forest. “We need to figure out the various options for what works best for our staff,” he said, “and we need to take a close look at our internal policies to revise them, and make sure we are practicing them effectively.”
Cockwell and the Forest released a formal press release that announced when they had opted into the PAR program in early March. “It may have seemed silly to announce that we are doing this before anything is really done,” he chuckled, “but we did that in an attempt to hold ourselves accountable. If you don’t communicate a commitment, then where is the accountability?”
And it is not just an internally-managed initiative. By formally joining the PAR program, the Forest will be audited and verified at each milestone by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Cockwell claimed that the organization is designed for individuals and businesses who do not know where to start with their reconciliation efforts, and the CCAB have offered support and insight into the next steps for the Forest.
“Right now, our first step is to just share that we have made the commitment to see through this program,” said Cockwell.
According to www.native-land.ca, the Forest sits on the traditional territory of the Anishinabaweki.
By Emily Stonehouse