Community Based Environmental Monitoring
In 2016, Métis Nation of Alberta - Local 1935 (McMurray Métis), Mikisew Cree First Nation - Government and Industry Relations (MCFN - GIR), Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation - Dene Lands and Resource Management (ACFN - DLRM) and Métis Nation of Alberta - Local 125 (Fort Chipewyan) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work together on strengthening economic participation in environmental monitoring.
One of the many outcomes of the MOU was the Community-Based Environmental Monitoring Certificate (CBEM Certificate). It is a collaborative initiative to move forward the efforts of Indigenous peoples living in the Fort McMurray region and Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD) in ecological stewardship and strengthen their access to related employment initiatives. The Community-Based Environmental Monitoring Training Program provides participants environmental training through a holistic, reflective approach in both Western and Indigenous sciences - a two-eyed seeing approach.
What is a two-eyed seeing approach you may be wondering? It is an approach for students to learn procedures, ethical practices, and gain knowledge through both a Western and an Indigenous lens. The approach allows students to strengthen their cultural values and connections to the land, water, air, and all living beings. Students develop land-based relationships through experiences that are multi-dimensional and localized in their ancestral lands as they build their knowledge and skills in environmental procedures and practices used in monitoring resource development. The entire program is co-facilitated by Western science and Indigenous knowledge instructors.
The program offers successful participants an accredited Environmental Monitoring Training Certificate through Keyano College delivering the customized curriculum and a project partner. The Certificate is a broad program blending both theory and hands-on practical learning in the field. The training is taught over the four seasons, and one full credit course is completely land-based in traditional learning experiences on the land each season. (Insert pictures; Moose Lakes and canoeing).
The program is geared towards preparing students to be the keepers of the land, employment in the environmental monitoring field, and or pursuing further education in environmental studies. The program includes a number of safety certifications such as, H2S Alive, Wilderness First Aid, and Swift Water Safety. During the training students also participate in environmental related work placements.
The first group of students, or first cohort, graduated in July 2019. The second cohort began on January 6, 2020, and a third is to begin May 4, 2020. During cohort two, the first week-on-the-land was a winter camp on Fort McKay First Nations traditional lands at the Moose Lakes camp on Paradise Bay. Fort McKay members and McMurray Métis members including Peter and Len Hansen, worked with the program staff, Indigenous Advisory Council, and other program partners to ensure an interactive, hands-on learning experience for the students. The Fort McKay Ranger and Guardian Program focused on the importance in management and monitoring in stewardship and protection of the land. Len and Peter also shared their expertise with the students in trapping, and knowledge in maintaining connections to the land and animals.
The next week-on-the-land is anticipated to occur on Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation (CPDFN) lands where land-users and knowledge keepers will share their wisdom on traditional moose hide preparation. We look forward to working with CPDFN members to increase our Indigenous cultural awareness and environmental connections. With eyes set on the summer, the CBEM students are eagerly looking forward to the week on-the land in mid-July paddling canoes and camping along the Athabasca River all the way to Fort Chipewyan. This activity would not be possible without the support of the McMurray Metis with their equipment, canoes, guides and expertise.
The training program is funded by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) through the federal Skills and Partnership Fund (SPF), Alberta Labour and Immigration, Athabasca Tribal Council and Rupertsland Institute - Indigenous Skills and Employment Strategy (ISETS) agreement holders, Indigenous organizations and companies-ACDEN Vertex, Mikisew Advisian, McMurray Métis, MCFN and ACFN CBM in Fort Chipewyan, sponsorship from PetroChina Canada Ltd. and TransCanada White Spruce Pipeline Project, and industry participation from Japan Canada Oil Sands Limited, Canadian Natural Resources Limited Albian Sands, Suncor Energy, Integra Technologies, Paragon Soil and Environmental Consulting Inc., Hatfield Group, and Imperial Oil Limited.
A third cohort is set to begin May 2020. Those interested in enrolling should contact Shelby Weiss at the Athabasca Tribal Council (780-791-6538 - Ext. 246) for more information.
We interviewed two students, Brenden Boostrom and Waylen McNeill, in the second cohort about their experience to date and below is what they had to say:
1. What influenced you to choose the CBEM program?
Brenden: My parents are oil workers and I considered that as a career, but I see this as a chance to become educated on the environment and lead a different life. I want to get out to site on my own connections.
Waylen: In all honesty, it was the best opportunity at the time given I was just out of high school. A 10-month course that was paid for and that would give me a job I would enjoy sounded like a great opportunity.
2. What are you most looking forward to learning or doing?
Brenden: I am most looking forward to learning about ecosystem connections and relationships. Also, I’m really looking forward to the outdoor learning experiences.
Waylen: I’m looking forward to getting my certificate and being able to go further with my career. I want to make a name for myself up here working as an environmental monitor. I’m also interested in potentially doing more schooling.
3. What are your thoughts on learning both western and Indigenous science?
Brenden: I think with the Indigenous science there is more flexibility with learning including different learning activities and spaces. Western science is more rigid and there is less ability for free-thinking as it is logic-based.
Waylen: As Indigenous people we have a connection to the land and will have added benefit when learning the western side. We bring our heritage and views into western science and can influence it. It’s less about using the environment and more about being one with it.
4. What do you feel are the benefits from learning both ways of knowing?
Brenden: I think it encourages the use and learning of language. It also helps me to connect with other Indigenous communities such as the community of Fort McKay as we went on their traditional lands (Moose Lakes). It’s great to be able to share stories and talk about our upbringing.
Waylen: I feel that learning both Indigenous and western science allows me to bring cultural knowledge to my everyday life and work.
5. What do you hope to do with this knowledge and training once you complete the program?
Brenden: I want to do good and help influence others to care about the land. I would like to start my own company within the environmental monitoring field.
Waylen: I hope to be able to apply more indigenous knowledge to my life and work. Completing this program also gives me more options as I can go further in my education and build a career. It also shows that I can complete something I set out to achieve.
- CBEM cohort 2 students Wesley Naughton, Kelly Mitchell, Tracy Watson, Brina Cardinal and Chas Marcel participating in the Ice Rescue and Safety training certificate
- CBEM Cohort 1 student Mason Morley on the canoe trip from Fort McKay to Fort Chipewyan.
- CBEM Cohort 2 students Waylen McNeill, Cindy Marten, Brenden Boostrom and Wesley Naughton with Leonard and Peter Hansen at their trapline on Moose Lakes.
- Cohort 2 student Latasha Adby participating in a Air Monitoring Lab with Keyano’s Environmental Degree program students.
- First day of the CBEM program for cohort 2.
Brenden Boostrom ready to jump into the water to complete his Ice Rescue and Safety Training.