NEWS
08/25/2016 18:53 EDT | Updated 08/26/2017 01:12 EDT

Manitoba First Nations group wants talks on forest resources, mill ownership

WINNIPEG — A group that represents 30 northern Manitoba First Nations wants to talk with the province about buying a mill that is closing in December.

Tolko Industries says its mill near The Pas will close on Dec. 2, putting 332 employees out of work.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., says the closure will affect many First Nations in the north.

She says it will also affect many more jobs in the timber and forestry business in the area.

North Wilson says her group wants to meet with Premier Brian Pallister about First Nation ownership of Tolko's mill operations, as well as First Nations securing timber volumes in Tolko’s forest licence area.

She says in 1989, the Swampy Cree Tribal Council and MKO talked about a First Nation consortium buying the former ManFor operations at The Pas from the then-Progressive Conservative provincial government.

"MKO proposes that discussions for First Nation ownership of the mill and the allocation of the forest resources be immediately reopened," North Wilson said in a news release Thursday.

"It is time that First Nations took ownership of the northern forest industry and restored our stewardship of the forests within our forests within our ancestral lands and traditional and treaty territories."

Tolko said earlier this week that the decision to shut down its operation in The Pas wasn't made lightly, but the plant is not financially sustainable despite years of trying to improve results.

Pallister said this week that his government, just a few months into its term after defeating the NDP in last spring's election, isn't prepared to put any more money into Tolko.

He said his government is working toward longer-term solutions for businesses in northern communities such as more competitive tax rates, better infrastructure and fairer regulations.