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Better Together: Continuing our journey with Brunswick House First Nation

Better Together:
Continuing our journey with Brunswick House First Nation

  • 6 min read

Article by Cory Girard, Project Manager, Environmental Water

For Water First, the most successful projects springboard into enhanced partnerships and deeper relationships. There’s no better feeling than getting invited back to collaborate on a new project. It’s truly an honour, and I got to experience it first hand when I returned to Brunswick House First Nation (BHFN) in early July 2023 to provide training for an enhanced climate change monitoring program.

My last visit to BHFN, which is located about 150 kilometres northeast of Sault Ste. Marie, was in the summer of 2022. I had been there on three separate occasions to train BHFN staff on the technical aspects of their climate change monitoring program. BHFN was interested in establishing a program that could track the effects of climate change on the waters and plants most heavily relied on by the community. My role was to support the team – made up of Santana, Shawn, and Paradise – in mastering their field and data collection skills. The program’s first field season was a great success thanks to the confidence and capabilities all three team members demonstrated. I was happy to have been a part of their learning journey, and also a little sad that they might not need us to come back.

Imagine my delight when Santana, the team lead, said they wanted to have Water First return for training on a new-and-improved climate change monitoring program! 

Over the fall and winter, Santana had been busy. She had presented the BHFN monitoring program at Magnetawan First Nation’s Indigenous Lands and Resources Management conference and at Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s climate change workshop led by Water First. These events showcased the amazing environmental work being done by other Indigenous communities and emphasized a Two-Eyed Seeing approach.

Photo caption: Santana Vanbuskirk presenting her poster entitled, “Protecting the Great Spirit of Nibi (water) with Brunswick House First Nation”, at Magnetawan First Nation’s Indigenous Lands and Resources Management conference in March 2023.

“My goal for this project is to create climate change awareness in the community and document long term effects of climate change. I would like to see the Mountbatten Climate Change Project continue to strive for years to come. Climate change means to me that Mother Earth is in pain and she needs more people to protect the water, the trees, the ground and everything in between.”

Photo Caption: Participant Santana Vanbuskirk sits in Borden River as she takes water quality parameter measurements with a multiparameter probe.

To say Santana was inspired is an understatement. She wanted to implement some of what she had learned and make improvements for the next phase of BHFN’s program. She and the Lands and Resources Department were keen to work with Water First again – and we were thrilled. 

Leading up to the 2023 field season, I spent time with Santana to better understand the vision of BHFN’s new monitoring approach. One of their goals was to slow the pace of technical duties to create more space and time for cultural activities like water ceremony and careful observation of plants and animals that are of value to the community. Another important addition to the program was monitoring Borden Lake  – BHFN’s drinking water source – for contaminants from mining activities.

Photo caption: Participants Mona Redbreast (Left) and Paradise Saunders (Right) field filter water from Borden Lake into a sample bottle for analysis of dissolved parameters.

Santana worked tirelessly to express her ideas and summarize the previous year’s progress to apply for funding for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. It was no surprise that the application was successful. The funders were impressed with BHFN’s climate change program and even granted funds for BHFN to grow their team with the addition of an assistant lead position.

Fast-forward to July 2023, and my colleague Beth and I led a two-week technical training workshop for the BHFN climate monitoring program. We had an ambitious list of activities to cover: from navigating with handheld-GPS, practicing plant surveys, and collecting water samples, to measuring water quality parameters and presenting conceptual lessons about field and lab parameters, and more.

Fortunately, everyone was engaged and eager. We had a new addition to the team too – Mona, the new assistant lead, who was perpetually positive and spirited. We were able to accomplish all we set out to do and we did it with lots of smiles and laughter. Paradise said it best: “Our workshop was the perfect balance of scientific, professional, and fun.”

Photo caption: New addition to the team, Mona Redbreast, records water quality parameter readings on her field sheet.
Photo caption: Participant Shawn Tangie measures water quality parameters in the Borden River using a multiparameter reader.

On any given day, we would be navigating to monitoring locations and meticulously recording water quality results – but canoeing out on the lake all day was fun and gave us the chance to connect with the land and with each other. We learned about the different species that surrounded us and their traditional uses. For instance, did you know the roots of water lilies have medicinal properties? Together, we explored a densely forested and swampy shoreline on a quest to find a freshwater spring, and came across an abandoned beaver lodge that had been revealed by declining water levels. 

Selecting sample sites, collecting water samples, and following scientific protocols was hard work and serious effort. But standing in the lake in our hip waders, we took the time to pause and admire our surroundings.

“I love my job!” was something I heard Mona say on multiple occasions. Working closely with the BHFN team, and doing meaningful work surrounded by the beauty of nature, I can definitely say I feel the same.

Photo Caption: The BHFN Climate Monitoring Team take a breather while filming an interview outside near the Mountbatten reserve, July 2023.