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Forging Relationships, Forging Change

Forging Relationships, Forging Change

  • 7 min read

An evolution of partnership and learning
with Beausoleil First Nation

By Adrianna Bilinski, Program Manager, Indigenous School Engagement

If there’s one thing Water First prides itself on, it’s our ability to build meaningful partnerships. Case in point is our partnership with Beausoleil First Nation (BFN).

BFN is located on Christian Island, a tiny gem in Georgian Bay. This special community has been an instrumental partner to the Indigenous School Water Program (ISWP) at Water First. The Indigenous School Water Program (ISWP) team has been working with BFN since 2019, and recently, the Drinking Water Internship partnered with this community through the 2023 partnership with Ogemawahj Tribal Council. 

BFN’s Director of Education, Nancy Assance, has been a strong supporter of Water First programming since 2019. Our first collaboration with Beausoleil First Nation was a pilot program that was affected by the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the work we did with BFN was so well received that they were happy to be the first community to pilot our new digital program in November 2020. This success resulted in Nancy inviting Water First to design a summer credit program for the summer of 2021. In this program, the students learned from the land and led a beach water monitoring project.

This successful high school credit program expanded from there –  in 2022, we facilitated summer programs in two different communities. The program also evolved within Beausoleil First Nation itself. The BFN summer program went from an 8-week geography credit in 2021 to an 8-week geography and science credit in 2022, to a 4-week geography credit in 2023. During this evolution, Water First and Beausoleil First Nation took an open and transparent approach to identifying needs and capacity restrictions. The ISWP team would like to thank Nancy Assance, as well as Tori Monague, the Right to Play Manger, for partnering with us three years strong through this evolution of the summer program. Our relationship of trust is strong enough to have difficult conversations and come out with mutual understandings. It is in this context of trust that we have been giving, receiving, and doing all that we can to support the youth in this community.

BFN and Water First also acknowledge the valuable support of the Simcoe County District School Board. Without their support, the program that BFN and Water First co-developed would not have been accredited. Miigwetch. 

A huge reason for the summer program’s success is finding local Knowledge Holders willing to support the youth in their learning. Water First team members love learning from our community partners as well. This summer featured some excellent return guest speakers as well as new ones who brought important context and experiential learning opportunities to the students.

Returning for their third year were local fisherman Ed Williams and culture and language teacher Doug King. This class-favourite duo introduced 8 different species of fish to the students. They taught everyone how to identify the fish species, how to examine their stomach contents, and how to clean and prepare the fish for consumption. Ed and Doug generously donated the fish we cleaned together to the class – and we used that fish to prepare a fish fry during our graduation celebration!

Another return guest was local plant expert Kyle Sandy. Kyle shared knowledge about different edible plants and medicines as we hiked through the bush. (Learning about the natural mosquito repellent bee balm was helpful before we ventured into the mosquito’s territory.) Further on in the hike we enjoyed flavour-packed wild blackberries and harvested bergamot to make tea.

Georgian Bay Forever, an organization that maintains a variety of projects and programs designed to protect and improve the quality of Georgian Bay and surrounding areas,  joined us for a second year this summer. They lead a training session on how to remove an invasive species called phragmites. Phragmite removal was one of two projects the students focused on over the 4-week course. Georgian Bay Forever also ran a workshop about micro plastics in the water and on the beach, which generated excellent discussion on global sustainability and our own environmental footprints. 

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit also supported our learning for a third year in a row by helping us manage a beach water monitoring project. Students learned how to take water samples to be sent to the lab to monitor E.coli levels, which we did every week of our program. The class even had the honour of going for a tour of the lab, which helped the students to feel connected to the land in a meaningful way. 

A diverse crew of new guest speakers joined us this summer, allowing us to cover the curriculum and engage each different kind of learner throughout the course. 

Sylvia Norton-Sutherland from the education department led a birch bark basket weaving workshop with the students.This process spanned 4 days of the week, with students having a combination of time dedicated to the project and working on their own time to finish their creations. Basket weaving was the perfect craft to talk about sustainable living in a historical and modern context.

Noopaming Creations is a local mother-and-daughter team that works with historically and culturally significant resources. They led a medicine pouch workshop during which each student had a chance to make their own medicine pouch. We discussed why someone might carry a medicine pouch, and what could be kept inside. 

Clayton Samuel King is a skilled and successful artist from Beausoleil who has taken a deep interest in treaty research. He has contributed to the recent treaty settlement work in the community, and he was kind enough to come into the class and share his research journey. This discussion of political boundaries and agreements are so important for youth to think about. We were very happy to provide a safe place for these conversations. 

The Ontario Geological Survey brought the study of rock and dirt to life with their visit to the island. We learned about different landforms and the difference between rocks and minerals. We also got our hands dirty by sifting through soil samples while discussing healthy planting processes.  

The 2023 summer credit program with Beausoleil First Nation was an incredible experience filled with collaboration and learning. I’d like to thank everyone from the community and the special guests who supported and contributed to our learning journey. We look forward to strengthening our relationships and seeing how programs evolve in the years to come.