Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program: Learning and working together with Indigenous communities to monitor lakes across Alberta

“Water is essential to our culture, which is why our people always camped by the water. Without the land and water, there is no people”, Troy Stuart, Lands Manager, Bigstone Cree Nation.

Water is of cultural and spiritual importance to Indigenous peoples and is seen as the interconnection among all living beings.

Indigenous communities across the province have questions and concerns about their local water bodies. What are the impacts of industrial and recreational uses on lakes? Is it safe to eat the fish and drink the water? “It is in the best interest of our people now and the people of the future to secure our water,” Troy Stuart, Bigstone Cree Nation.

To tackle questions on water quality and fish health, Bigstone Cree Nation and Alberta Environment and Parks’ Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD) worked together to monitor the North Wabasca Lake. “The collaboration with Bigstone Cree Nation is an exciting and new opportunity within our Provincial Lake Monitoring Program to address concerns of indigenous communities while building local capacity for collecting scientifically credible lake monitoring data,” says Dr. Ron Zurawell, Lake Ecosystem Scientist with EMSD.

Best available knowledge: Indigenous knowledge meets western science

The pilot project saw community members and government scientists jointly sampling, analyzing and reporting on the condition of North Wabasca Lake, located 300 km north of Edmonton. Learning from each other was key to the success of this project. “Incorporating local knowledge provided by Bigstone Cree Nation was critical to understanding potential influencing features of the lake basin and assisted in sampling site selection,” says Dr. Ron Zurawell of EMSD.

Joint sampling and sharing of technology also helped the community technologist develop a deeper understanding of and trust in the scientific data. “I think the project is very successful. When the data is gathered and shared with the community, we know that our drinking water condition and fish habitat is normal. Now that I have participated in the project I am actually confident about the water,” Gilmen Cardinal, Bigstone Cree Nation.

Gilmen Cardinal Bigstone Cree Nation conducting lake water sampling

Gilmen Cardinal, Bigstone Cree Nation, conducting lake water sampling on North Wabasca Lake. Source: Zoey Wang 

Shared journey

Mutual interests were key drivers for the launch of the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program that is filling scientific data gaps and addressing community questions on water quality and fish health. “It’s a shared journey and takes time, passion and commitment to do things right,” says Zoey Wang, Community Monitoring Program Coordinator with EMSD. Success of the shared journey is grounded in respect for cultural and scientific protocols, open and timely communication and support from government and community leadership.

What’s next?

Bigstone Cree Nation is the first of four Indigenous communities participating in the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program. The program has expanded to six other lakes in 2017 and 2018 with participation from Whitefish Lake First Nation, Dene Tha’ First Nation and Cold Lake First Nations, in addition to Bigstone Cree Nation.

Working with participating Indigenous communities, EMSD will report on the water quality of lakes monitored in 2017 and 2018, and evaluate the Indigenous Lake Monitoring Program to guide a long-term monitoring program based on the respectful braiding of Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems.

Learn more

 

 

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