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Cat Lake First Nation eyes forestry opportunities

February 29, 2024  By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Photo: Annex Business Media

Cat Lake First Nation Chief Russell Wesley has been working with two Finnish organizations on forest biomass and long-distance health-care diagnostic initiatives.

The collaboration resulted in the signing of two memorandums of understanding this week, during the Neeganii-Iishawin Gathering in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The first partnership, with 73 Health, focuses on remote medical diagnostic solutions for the benefit of remote communities, including Cat Lake First Nation.

Wesley explained that one of several reports commissioned by the Sioux Lookout First Nation Health Authority, which represents 33 First Nation communities including Cat Lake, detailed the health crisis in the remote communities. The report indicated the number of deaths by gender, incident, suicide and opioid-related deaths.


“What was striking about it was the amount of unnecessary deaths,” Wesley said, adding it was shocking to find out that there were huge gaps in health delivery in the remote First Nations.

“In my opinion, nothing was really being done about it so I started looking for a solution. I was looking at Google telehealth alternatives and I stumbled onto 73 Health, and started researching them with my advisors, which resulted in this (memorandum of understanding).”

He said the workings of 73 Health provide a more concise monitoring of pulse, vision, hearing, breathing and heart rates and helps to maintain a better patient-doctor relationship.

“There is going to be a requirement for policy shifts and we’ll have to change how the doctors operate within the system,” Wesley said. “Once it gets going there will be new training measures, opportunities, and developments, and at the same time, there will be funding policy shifts as well from the Indigenous Services Canada because they have to accommodate this new system of health delivery. When all of those things have happened, essentially there’s your real health transformation and that’s the (memorandum of understanding).”

The second partnership with Natural Resources Institute Finland aims to advance a Northern bioeconomy network with a focus that includes using forest biomass resources for economic growth.

Wesley said the biomass memorandum of understanding is about Cat Lake’s economy and long-term future. He explained that they have a timber management plan called the Cat Lake Slate Falls First Nations Community-Based Land Use Plan and a sustainable forestry licence.

“There’s a distance to market the Cat Lake forest,” he said. “It’s isolated, there’s no road access and there are several partners involved. We hadn’t quite found a way to develop this forest. So this is what this (partnership) is about.

Wesley noted that the community didn’t want to just have a process where they’re clear-cutting trees to get the fibre to market, they wanted to have sustainable operations over the long term.

“We wanted to look at not only fibre but at value-added like manufacturing,” he said. “We wanted to look at other opportunities like biodiversity opportunities so we looked for partners and guess who popped up again? The Finnish people, because in the timber management world, they are the leaders. So it only made sense for us to approach them again to see if they could partner.”

The goal is to complete an ecological and economic master plan within a year.

Sandi Krasowski is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Chronicle-Journal.

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