Born in May 1981, Johnny grew up in the forest community of Parent, where he attended elementary and high school with francophone Quebecers. Hunting and fishing were part of his daily life as one of seven children in an Atikamekw family of Catholic persuasion. He fondly recalls times spent hunting with his father in the fall.
Adolescence was a difficult period; like other indigenous residents of his small forest town, he was a victim of racist abuse. “It destroyed my self-esteem, and I felt like I was different from everyone else,” he says. After going through periods of dropping out and delinquency as a teenager, he left Parent to join up with his brother, who lived in the Atikamekw community of Opitciwan, and enroll in a vocational studies program. At that time, he was quite happy to change his living environment, distance himself from confrontations between white and indigenous people, and benefit from learning opportunities.
During 1999 and 2000, he learned forest trades such as tree-felling, pre-commercial thinning and roundwood scaling. The success of his studies gave him renewed confidence in his abilities. Even though there were no steady jobs available, he went to a local sawmill every day to offer his services. In 2003, he finally obtained a job that freed him from the financial instability he had experienced since he was a child. The work—sorting wood in a lumber yard—was hard, but he was very happy to be holding down a job, living in his own place and owning a vehicle.
In 2002, he became a father for the first time. He recounts with pride how he dealt with the challenges of raising a family: providing his kids with a healthy living environment, supporting them in their studies and sporting activities, etc. One of his three sons even took part in the province’s elite hockey league at the Midget level. The academic challenges include teaching his children two languages: their native tongue of Atikamekw and French. In today’s world, mastering English is also necessary.
Johnny is proud of his position as human resources and quality manager at the Scierie Opitciwan sawmill. Joining this indigenous-run business as a determined, willing young worker was an extraordinary opportunity for him to leverage his professional skills. He developed his ability to engage employees and his leadership qualities. He has held positions at every level, including manual worker, saw line operator, factory supervisor and, finally, quality manager for sawn wood products – a position of vital importance at a lumber production company.
“While I didn’t have formal process management skills, I had done training at CÉGEP de St-Félicien that enabled me to set objectives, establish production targets and formulate the relevant budgets,” he explains.
In 2012, the company offered him the position of human resources manager, which he accepted. He admits that the requirements of the position, which combines the roles of a manager, personal coach, motivator and consultant on production problems, are very demanding. He also notes the considerable responsibility that comes with managing many employees in a small community where access to human resources may be difficult. He mentions a number of issues related to finding qualified personnel that he deals with every day: employee retention, alcohol and drug addiction prevention and motivation.
Along with being a fitness buff, the young executive plays music in his spare time, including the drums and bass guitar.
As a dedicated leader, Johnny hopes that young indigenous peoples will do the following: “Identify your main areas of interest, hang on to your dreams and discover indigenous values and your connections to Mother Earth and her resources.”
Ultimately, this brief profile offers a message of hope: “Whatever your social or economic conditions, or whatever difficulties you face at school, it’s possible to succeed.” Johnny is living proof of that!