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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.

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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