Lafarge and Whitefish River FN celebrate 40 years of partnerships

Whitefish River First Nation residents and Lafarge employees enjoy a fish fry celebrating 40 years of partnership.

BIRCH ISLAND—Last Wednesday the Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN) and Lafarge Canada communities came together to celebrate 40 years of partnership and family with a special fish fry luncheon to mark the occasion at the WRFN community centre—a fitting venue as Lafarge had aided the community with funds to help see it constructed many years ago.

In a special ceremony, John McCabe, Lafarge Canada Vice President of Operations for Eastern Canada (ready mix), presented Chief Shining Turtle Franklin Paibomsai with a painting commissioned by Sudbury Artist Sue Lampinen of the LaCloche area, saying he hoped the work would sit in the band office for the whole community to enjoy.

“It has been a very fruitful 40 years,” Mr. McCabe said. “Thank you for the service you have given us. The community you have here is unique. We are proud of our association with you and are proud to be sponsors of some of the things you do.”

Chief Shining Turtle said WRFN would be reciprocating the gift and have also commissioned a work, a portrait of the great chief Pontiac. He called it “a stunning piece” and noted that a second work by the same artist has also been commissioned for Shawanosowe School. These gifts will be presented in a September 3 ceremony.

“Lafarge has been a very strong supporter of education in WRFN,” the chief continued, noting that Lafarge has made a donation to the Shawanosowe School, both its first edition and the new school that opened its doors in 2007.

Lafarge also donated funds to the creation of the cenotaph, located on the grounds outside of the community centre, the chief explained. The chief said Lafarge saw “how terribly important” the cenotaph was to the people of WRFN. Chief Shining Turtle also noted Lafarge’s commitment to minor hockey, with donations such as hockey sweaters (the chief recalled donning old jerseys with ‘Canada Cement’ splashed across the back) and donates to the annual Little Native Hockey League tournament, allowing the community’s children to attend. “This benefits the future leaders of this community,” he said.

Father George Gardner, former manager of operations at the WRFN terminal, was on hand for the anniversary celebration, getting special recognition from Chief Shining Turtle.

Father George, as he is now known, began a career with Lafarge in 1956, initially with Canada Cement which was purchased by Lafarge, travelling North America before ending up in WRFN.

“Art Nahwegahbow was the chief then, and we got along very well,” he said of the negotiations before the terminal was built by Canada Cement. “He wanted the best thing for his people and we were looking for the best thing for both them and us.”

During those negotiations, a 25-year deal was agreed upon based on “honestly, integrity and a love for one another” while using the Seven Grandfather teachings. That agreement has since been renewed.

While it doesn’t supply a lot of jobs to the community, the revenue, spin-off jobs and tax base are crucial, Father George explained. “Over the years, the market has changed and increased, which means an increase in the value of the terminal,” he added.

“I am so impressed with this community in that they aren’t greedy,” Father George continued. “They know what Lafarge is capable of, and what they can do, but they don’t ask all the time.”

Father George has stayed on with Lafarge in the role of consultant, long after retirement.

In an interview with The Expositor following the ceremony, Mr. McCabe called the WRFN terminal “a cornerstone of the Lafarge business” in that they are allowed to manage the business at a local level while still being a huge multi-national company.

He said Northern Ontario was an “extremely important” market because of the development potential.

“It’s what you do in the community and gaining the trust of the community that counts,” Mr. McCabe said.

He shared that Lafarge is looking to develop the terminal. “It’s a market with tremendous growth appeal,” he added, noting the mega-merger-in-the-works between Lafarge and Holcim, which would make it the largest cement company in the world. He said both Lafarge and Holcim have a strong sense of community mindedness, which will only mean even more community outreach.

“This is part of our business, it’s about the community,” Mr. McCabe said. “And Howie (Scrutton, terminal manager) is a great example of that—he is truly interested in the community.”

“Many of the values we see in First Nations traditions are the values Lafarge holds as a company—it’s a natural fit,” Mr. McCabe said.