Community-based monitoring is a relatively new term and can have a variety of interpretations. What we learned from listening and spending time with First Nation and Métis groups over the past several months is that CBM offers an opportunity to collaboratively address and track communities’ environmental concerns. We recognize the important contributions that CBM can provide to our collective environmental knowledge.  

The Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD) (formerly AEMERA) is striving to develop systems that respect traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to inform monitoring, evaluation and reporting programs.  We are seeking the advice of Aboriginal people on how traditional knowledge and community-driven environmental monitoring information may inform a world class monitoring system. By seeing, knowing and understanding in different ways, EMSD and First Nation and Metis communities are exploring a range of options in environmental data acquisition, analysis, and application.

Figure 1. AEMERA Value Chain

Figure 1. Value Chain

During the summer and fall of 2015, a combination of meetings and phone interviews were conducted with First Nation and Métis communities within or in proximity to the three oil sands deposits in northeastern Alberta.  The interviews sought the ‘who, what, why and how’ of CBM in these communities.

Interviewees representing thirty-one communities provided feedback. That information has contributed to our understanding of the environmental monitoring capacity in the area. The interviewees shared what types of monitoring are currently underway in their communities such as traditional land use assessments, plant and animals surveys, academic research, and regional monitoring efforts. Interviewees were also asked about the details of those CBM activities, including funding structure, driving force, and level of participation.  The interviews captured communities’ interest and anticipated barriers in participating in future environmental monitoring programs.

“We are taking new approaches to environmental monitoring, including increasing the involvement and roles for First Nations and Métis communities,” said Dr. Bill Donahue, Vice President and Chief Monitoring Officer. “This survey emphasized that we need to start with building trust and engage communities on how we can work together in developing community-based monitoring priorities and programs, and work to gain a better understanding of how we can braid community knowledge and indigenous wisdom together with our current “western science” methods of environmental monitoring.”

Project results indicate a desire amongst most of the interviewees to participate with AEMERA scientists in carrying out monitoring work in their community and to seek capacity-building opportunities.  These opportunities could include support for monitoring training, funding or developing knowledge sharing workshops or outreach program to enhance awareness of indigenous and western science perspectives.

The intent is to use the project findings as a starting point to advance and support ongoing conversations between EMSD and interested Aboriginal communities in building a provincial monitoring system.