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Past Sistering Indigenous and Western Science projects

Explore the projects that were a part of the Sistering Indigenous and Western Science (SINEWS) program pilot.

“Better Ways of Knowing: Ensuring Indigenous Knowledge and Values Inform Research Projects in Yukon”

Emma T. and Natasha A.

Emma and Natasha worked with the Tr’ondëk Gwich’in Tribal council to co-develop a guide on ethical engagement strategies for organizations wishing to work with the communities in Northern Yukon Territory.

The intention of their project is to provide researchers, scientists, and government employees visiting from other areas of Canada with a guidance document to support data collection in the Yukon using an inclusive and holistic approach through the incorporation of Yukon First Nation values, knowledge, and priorities. The document provides an overview of Yukon First Nation land claims and self-government agreements and the expectations of operating under this legislation by recognizing Yukon First Nation governments as co-management partners in the monitoring and management of Yukon-specific natural resources. When developing a Yukon-specific project and/or monitoring program it is critical to contact the First Nation government in whose traditional territory you will be conducting the research prior to developing the specifics of the project and the guidance document provides researchers from outside of the Yukon with the specifics of who, how, and when to contact the appropriate Yukon First Nation to begin these conversations so that their research project is being approached in an inclusive and respectful manner.

For their deliverables Emma and Natasha created a draft Ethics Guide document and short video detailing the reasons behind the need for a more ethical approach to working with communities on research projects.

Emma and Natasha were sponsored through the Canadian Forest Services Sector.

“Fire Medicine”

Cassandra (River) B.

River explored prescriptive burning and its role in a paradigm shift in forestry, as well as its meaning, philosophy and cultural significance to demonstrate the need and value of prescribed burning practices for forest health using scientific inquiry.

River’s research was conducted as a series of oral history and traditional fire medicine interviews with several Elders and knowledge keepers within the Wásneć territory, and Sahtu, Dene Tha’, and Behchokǭ First Nations. Their report was an oral presentation with visual representation of the subject matter, relying heavily on oral history to report through story telling.

River’s project was sponsored through the Canadian Forest Services Sector with additional support from the Whitehorse Natural Resources Canada office during the later part of their project.

“A clean Vision for Turtle Island”

Alexa G. and Brittany T.

Brittany and Alexa conducted research on energy sources and distribution through an Indigenous lens to develop viable clean energy alternatives and sustainable solutions to current energy sources.

Their project plan was to investigate concepts that have minimal effect on the land, animals, and fish. Specific aims of the research involved learning the pros and cons of renewable energy sources in relation to being an effective alternative to existing energy sources used in Indigenous communities in Alberta.

They delivered an oral presentation with visual aids and created a Solar Power Energy information poster that could be used as a resource for communities investigating energy alternatives to better suit their current energy requirements.

Brittany and Alexa were sponsored through the Energy Efficiency and Technology Sector.

“Baseline Environmental Study of the Pitu’paq Watershed on Unama’ki”

Nicole G. and Hannah B.

Nicole and Hannah worked alongside NRCan researchers in the Bras d’Or Lakes watershed, the Pitu’paq area in Unama’ki, “land of the fog” in Mi'kmaw (the traditional name for Cape Breton Island). The project involved analysis of how tree roots hold the soil together and measuring metal concentrations in soils, waters and sediments with an overall purpose of beginning the process of a cumulative effects assessment for the community.

One of the project’s goals was to acquire baseline data about biodiversity and culturally significant species for Eskasoni’s future monitoring and management projects, including the establishment of an Indigenous-Led Area-Based Conservation (ILABC). ILABC are lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems.

Cape Breton Island is home to five Mi’kmaq nations: Eskasoni, Wagmatcook, We’koqma’k, Potlotek and Membertou. In the spirit of a cumulative effects assessment, Hannah and Nicole examined many different indicators of forest health, focusing on the differences between forests impacted by clear-cut activities versus untouched areas. Water, soil and environmental DNA (eDNA) samples were collected at various sites along the Quamsipuk river as well as a sediment core at the mouth of the river. Their mentor guided the testing to ensure effective field work sampling for the tests to give the information necessary to tell the story of the land. Throughout the sampling process, Hannah and Nicole not only followed traditional scientific sampling protocols but incorporated Indigenous ways of knowing into each step of this process. Their days began with a smudge, and tobacco was left at each site to honour the land.

The pair’s deliverables include a mini cumulative effects assessment along with a presentation of their findings, which they delivered to the community of Eskasoni.

Hannah and Nicole were sponsored through Nòkwewashk and supported by mentors from Nòkwewashk and Office of the Chief Scientist with additional mentor support from Lands and Minerals for the sampling and testing.

“Preserving Traditional Medicine: A Guide to the Medicines of Fisher River Cree Nation”

Halle C. and Ava A.

Halle and Ava created a catalogue of traditional medicine in the hope of conserving traditional land-use practices in the face of climate change. The catalogue was designed for use by the Fisher River Cree Nation, located south of Fisher Bay on Lake Winnipeg.

They created a photo catalogue of medicines and plants and interviewed community members with traditional knowledge of plants and their purposes. The end goal was to have a fully developed catalogue of medicinal plants with photos to be gifted to the Fisher River Cree First Nation. They researched and interviewed community members of Fisher River Cree Nation to create this valuable resource. Many members of Fisher River attended day schools and Residential Schools where the transfer of this traditional knowledge did not happen. While some of the knowledge about medicinal plants has been lost over generations due to colonization, many Elders and knowledge keepers still rely on the use of traditional medicines in their day-to-day life.

The catalogue identifies where and how medical plants were harvested, prepared and used by members of Fisher River. Halle and Ava also identified the change in land use over time through interviews with community Elders and knowledge keepers to demonstrate the changes created during years of settler and residential school interference, relocation and other factors reducing knowledge transfer and teachings on traditional practices.

Their work was guided by sponsored by the Lands and Minerals Sector.

“Identifying the Socio-Economic Benefits and Barriers of Indigenous-Led Clean Energy Development in Saskatchewan”

Juleah D. and Breeann P.

Breeann and Juleah researched the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy projects led by Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan.

Their research methods included conducting a desktop review of all Indigenous-led renewable energy projects in the province, then selecting four projects, each of a different size and type of renewable energy, to research in greater detail. They then conducted a series of key informant interviews with stakeholders including governments, utilities, Indigenous development corporations, and Indigenous community members, to obtain multiple perspectives on the benefits of renewable energy.

Juleah and Breeann also attended the opening of the Meadow Lake Tribal Council BioEnergy Centre and the Pesâkâstêw Solar Project Opening where they were given a tour of the facilities and information on the development and implementation of the projects. Their project deliverable was a slideshow presentation of the research and their findings.

Juleah and Breeann’s project was sponsored through the Energy Systems Sector.

Integrating Indigenous values in reclamation planting and seed collection in Alberta

Reclamation planting on industrial landscapes can ensure that culturally important plants are maintained for Indigenous communities. This approach can be mutually beneficial for industry and Indigenous groups because many species commonly used for reclamation are also culturally significant.

To support re-establishment of these plants, Britni and Andrea developed a best practices guide for seed collection, focusing on six culturally significant boreal species. The guide drew on conversations and guidance from Elders and scientists and on publicly available datasets. To serve the interests expressed by Indigenous community members, the guide was supplemented with educational tools and experiential learning exercises to help youth learn about plant identification and cultural uses.

Nistawinakewin: A traditional land-use study in Fort Vermilion, Alberta

Land claim negotiations are an increasing frequent event in Alberta. As these negotiations proceed, new resources and tools may be needed by Indigenous communities to support their land claims. Without thorough documentation, oral histories and knowledge of land use may not be readily accepted by government during negotiations.

To support the predominantly Indigenous community of Fort Vermilion in pursuing future land claim discussions, Colby and Kelsie interviewed members of the community to identify areas of traditional land use, produced documentation and maps of these areas, and will continue to work with the Fort Vermilion Metis Local.

Commitment to community: Building sustainable relations through natural resource management

Strong relationships between youth and Elders are critical in Indigenous communities. These relationships ensure cultural teachings are passed on and that they empower communities to be united in leading the stewardship, governance and organization of their local natural resources.

Tammy and Amanda collaborated with the Chief, the Council, and the Youth Resilience Project of Atikameg (Whitefish Lake First Nation #459) in Alberta to host a three-day workshop focused on traditional land practices and teachings from Elders.

Youth demonstrated leadership by filming the event, and an accompanying picture book was also produced. These community resources can be used by the people of Atikameg to support future learning.

Atikameg community members shared strong positive responses to the initiative, indicating the project planted a seed with great potential to grow over the following years.

Assessing western and Indigenous approaches to water quality in the Calgary area

Water is a central feature of many Indigenous value systems and significant to women as keepers and protectors of water. As many Elders will attest, “water is life.” Over past centuries, western and Indigenous peoples have developed different ways of assessing water quality, which have rarely been integrated in Alberta.

Danielle and Hannah’s project worked to bring together these two sets of knowledge by working with an Indigenous community near Calgary to determine their needs and interests related to water quality. The pair also completed a literature review to deepen their understanding of the value of water for Indigenous peoples.

Analyzing the fire risk in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Understanding wildfire risk is important for Indigenous and northern communities in Canada because they are often located in high-risk, remote areas surrounded by forests. Accurate information on fire risk can help communities to protect their homes and infrastructure, prepare for evacuations, and plan future developments.

Jenni and Alex’s project focused on supporting the predominantly Indigenous community of Fort Smith by ground truthing two measurements used by the Canadian Forest Service to evaluate fire risk: the Duff Moisture Code (DMC) and the Drought Code (DC).

The pair also studied the relationship between hydrology (stream flow rate) and long-term moisture stress (DC) in the Wood Buffalo region of the Northwest Territories because fire risk can be influenced by water table fluctuations. Jenni and Alex found that stream flow rate was negatively related with the DC. However, the relationship was not strong enough for the stream flow rate to act as a robust direct indicator of landscape-level fuel moisture as related to wildfire occurrence.

Project HomeBuild: Addressing housing needs and housing sovereignty in Onion Lake Cree Nation

Indigenous peoples are the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population, yet the rate of home construction has not kept pace with this increasing demand. Consequently, many Indigenous communities face challenges related to poorly constructed and overcrowded homes.

Lola and Michelle tried to help solve these challenges by combining their interests and skill sets to provide a new home design for Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. The students aimed to create a design that would be culturally relevant while also contributing to the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of the community.

Lola and Michelle’s design incorporated traditional Tipi Laws and a social enterprise model, which allows surpluses to be reinvested in the community to support housing sovereignty. The students identified a building material that is locally available that could support economic development (hempcrete) and defined a long-term development plan that would incorporate alternative energy (solar and geothermal).

Lola and Michelle have applied for long-term support for Project HomeBuild through Impact Canada, a fund that supports solutions to big problems faced by Canadians.

Combining western science and Indigenous knowledge to document traditional uses of plants in Treaty 7 territory

Learning about ceremonial and medicinal plants is a key way that Indigenous youth are connecting or reconnecting with their cultural roots. To facilitate this learning process within communities, there is a need to increase the educational resources for youth and an opportunity to bring cultural teachings together with western science to create a larger set of knowledge.

Coral and Michelle addressed these key gaps by partnering with Elders and with the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, to receive teachings through medicine walks. Cultural teachings about finding, harvesting, preparing and using plants were combined with western science to determine ecosite types where culturally significant plants may be found on Treaty 7 territory in Alberta.

Infographics will be developed to communicate the project’s findings to youth and will be available at the Iniskim Centre to make the learnings accessible to local Indigenous peoples.

Documenting historic burning practices in Beaver First Nation

Controlled burning is an important cultural and ecological practice used by Indigenous peoples. Cultural burns maintain animal habitat, improve berry production, and reduce the risk of larger fires.

In many Indigenous communities, the loss of access to traditional lands and the government policy for fire suppression have resulted in a loss of cultural burning knowledge and practice. To help document community knowledge of fire use and to contribute to a potential revival of cultural burning practices, Andrea and Emma interviewed several members of Beaver First Nation in Alberta. The students’ report synthesizes themes in the knowledge shared, which can support knowledge retention and transfer in the future.

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