First Nation mat supplier makes inroads north: Transmission line work has Moccasin Trails looking for Indigenous partner.

Author:Ross, Ian

Marsha Smoke is coming north with a unique business proposition. The president of Moccasin Trails Engineered Road Access Matting Solutions has a keen interest in First Nation communities benefitting from development on their traditional territories.

Smoke's company is a First Nation-owned provider of industrial matting and portable bridges for construction sites.

Often used in oil and gas work in Western Canada, it's a relatively new product in this region but one that potentially offers real value when used in environmentally sensitive areas.

"My trips to the North are more about education than opportunities at this point," said Smoke, a member of Alderville First Nation, located in the Rice Lake area, southeast of Peterborough.

The hardwood and softwood mats are used as work platforms to support heavy equipment, such as cranes or drill rigs, in accessing rugged and swampy terrains. They're also used on farmland and private property.

The mats are interlocking and range in size from 10 to 60 feet long and can weigh a couple of thousand pounds.

They're deployed to minimize soil disturbance --such as rutting and compaction --and act as protective barriers against any material that might contaminate the ground. Once removed, the land returns to its natural state.

Smoke and her half-dozen employees don't do any actual manufacturing from their Roseneath, Ont., offices. That's for the simple reason of not wanting to manage an inventory to keep a workforce employed year-round.

Instead, the company buys new and used mats from major mat manufacturers, with whom they place orders and make arrangements for delivery to a job site somewhere in the U.S. or Canada, usually within days.

"In the matting business, there is no wait time," said Smoke.

Her network extends into Amish country in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where she works with 30 small family-run businesses.

"I phone in the requirements and they start building. When the product is ready, I buy it off of them and resell them to the market."

In keying on powerline and pipeline work, mining and access roads, Smoke wants to replicate the same business arrangement in Northern Ontario.

Smoke, the former owner of a travel agency and an Indigenous politician, admitted she had difficulty wrapping her head around this business opportunity when it was first presented to her a few years ago.

"I have gone my whole life talking about First Nations having to benefit from any work going on in our territories. Selling...

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