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Wiikwemkoong celebrates opening of FN95 mask manufacturing plant

Manitoulin Island plant creates 50 jobs, long-term partnerships with Vaughan medical equipment manufacturer and North Shore distributor

A new manufacturing plant producing FN95 masks is creating 50 jobs for residents and a renewed sense of optimism in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.

The community on the eastern end of Manitoulin Island celebrated the official grand opening of the plant on Nov. 26.

A collaboration between Wiikwemkoong, Dent-X Canada, and First Nations Procurement Inc., the facility is the first tenant in the community’s new light industrial park situated on 56.65 hectares just south of the main village.

The masks it will produce are medical-grade and will be shipped to clients across Canada, including CanaPHEM and the Canadian Cancer Society, in the effort to stop the transmission of COVID-19.

Calling it a “great day” for the community, Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier lauded the partners for bringing with them long-term sustainable jobs and the promise of prosperity.

“We’re very proud of the fact that the protective equipment that is being made here is Canada- and Ontario-made,” Peltier said.

“It’s also Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory Anishinaabe-made, something we can all be proud of as we move forward together toward economic recovery and prosperity.”

Throughout history, the chief said, the Anishinaabek people were active participants in the regional economy; but that came to a halt with the introduction of harmful government policies that impeded Indigenous Peoples right to self-determination.

Regaining a contributing role in the economy with projects like the new manufacturing facility is an act of reconciliation, he added.

“Like all other Ontarians, our Anishinaabe citizens appreciate the security of a full-time job and all the benefits,” Peltier said. “Who doesn’t want or need a regular paycheque?”

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Jimmy Emms, president at Dent-X Canada, said the plan to get the project up and running had been underway for several months.

Headquartered in Vaughan, Dent-X Canada specializes in producing digital radiology equipment. The company turned to producing face shields and masks at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With three plants soon in full production – including one in nearby Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation – Dent-X is producing one million masks daily.

“The people here are absolutely amazing, and Chief Duke Peltier and the community have been very opening, very welcoming,” Emms said.

“We are just very excited to able to do what we’re doing here.”

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who joined the gathering via videocall and had earlier toured the facility, called it “amazing” to see a box labelled “Proudly made in Wiikwemkoong” ready to be shipped across the country.

Projects like the Dent-X factory are not only essential in protecting the health of Canadians, but also in “laying the foundation for building First Nation economies together,” she said.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that this will be the beginning of a true and successful partnership between Wiikwemkoong and the corporate world,” Archibald said.

“Your community’s taking the lead on creating a long-term and impactful venture not only during the pandemic, but into the future.”

Peltier noted that successfully bringing the project online was thanks largely in part to the work, over the last 10 to 15 years, by Enaadmaagehjik, Wiikwemkoong’s economic development commission.

They also brought aboard Ignite Infrastructure Association Inc. and local company South Bay Electric to help on the project.

In expressing hope that this project would be just the first of many for the community's new industrial park, Peltier said he was confident economic spinoff opportunities would be created not only for neighbouring communities on Manitoulin, but also those in the surrounding Sudbury District.

“Our goal for Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory is to be more economically independent and self-reliant,” Peltier said.

“With a combination of enhanced skill development for our citizens, employment opportunities, and a solid relationship between Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and the surrounding communities, we can reach these goals.”