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Engagement and learning at the headwaters of the Columbia River

Indigenous peoples, watershed stewards, funders and youth gather
Mark Gifford (REFBC) listens to Elder Alfred Joseph tell the Ktunaxa Creation story. Submitted photo

A group including representatives from the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Watersheds BC, the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, and Wildsight met at the headwaters of the Columbia River near Canal Flats, to hear the Ktunaxa Creation story from Ktunaxa Elder Alfred Joseph. They were joined by watershed stewards, Indigenous representatives, community leaders and youth to learn about the Columbia River.

“The creation story told by Elder Joseph and Chief Pierre is a reminder that there is important historical evidence that show through time our Indigenous Peoples have a deep connection to the land that we steward, live and play on,” said Diana Cote. Cote is a member of the Shuswap Band and ʔakisq̓nuk First Nations and is the Indigenous Liaison with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. “We need to take a moment to remind ourselves that all places have meaning and a story.”

Wildsight includes the creation story as the foundation the students in their Columbia River Fields School begin with before embarking on a 15 day canoe trip along the Columbia River learning about the watershed.Wildsight has been running this school for students 15 o 18 since 2018.

With support from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Wildsight is expanding the Field School to include youth, educators and government officials in a program called Columbia River Futures.

“The history of the Columbia Basin is grounded in the tremendous and largely under-acknowledged losses of the dam building era. To move forward, our communities must first understand what was lost, what new challenges we face, and what our options are, before we can build a shared vision for the future. Indigenous Nations and local community leaders are doing an outstanding job of advancing bold visions for our future. At Wildsight, our work aims to support these visions by fostering the potential and power of the next generation to carry them forward over decades to come,” said Robyn Duncan, Executive Director of Wildsight.

The event concluded at Columbia Lake where Wildsight provided a modified lesson from their field school. Participants learned about the physical and human geography of the Columbia River Basin through analyzing and discussing a variety of different maps that highlight some of the features of and perspectives on the river.

“Being on the land at the headwaters of the Columbia River was very special,” said Deana Machin, a member of the Indigenous Leaders Advisory Circle for the Healthy Watersheds Initiative and a Member of the Syilx (Okanagan) Nation. “It really highlighted how important it is to continue to support Indigenous communities that are leading projects on their own territories and using the knowledge of the lands and waters to not only strengthen projects, but also as a way to further connect culture, language and community involvement.”

“As a funder, we work towards a future where freshwater ecosystems are healthy, sustainable, and valued. Wildsight’s Columbia River Futures program is providing unique opportunities for the public to learn and engage on the land and water with lessons that center on Indigenous rights and title, relationships, and ways of knowing,” said Mark Gifford, CEO, Real Estate Foundation of BC. “Connecting to the water and land in this way is a powerful experience and will continue to inspire the stewardship of this critical watershed into the future.”

Wildsight also recognized other watershed stewardship in the Columbia Basin, including Living Lakes Canada and Elk River Alliance, representatives from whom also attended the event.

READ: Wildsight receives funding for rainforest and caribou conservation project

READ: Wildsight seeks young adults for Youth Climate Corps contract positions

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Carolyn Grant

About the Author: Carolyn Grant

I have been with the Kimberley Bulletin since 2001 and have enjoyed every moment of it.
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