Graduates of a new Aboriginal-focused training program are helping to improve Alberta’s environmental monitoring network while enhancing their skills, leadership capabilities and employment opportunities.
Fifteen students from eight First Nation and Métis communities from across the oil sands region in northeastern Alberta completed five weeks of courses focused on safety, surface water quality monitoring and wildlife monitoring.
The Environmental Monitoring Training Program for First Nations and Métis communities in northeastern Alberta is the result of a partnership between Alberta Innovates – Technology futures (AITF), the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), Aboriginal communities and companies, government and industry.
The first group of Environmental Monitoring Training Program students will celebrate their program completion with a graduation ceremony at AITF (250 Karl Clark Road) on February 29 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. The event will include a meet and greet with program officials and participants, along with dancing, drumming and a keynote address and prayer to be offered by Elders. Media are invited to attend.
The training program is among the first initiatives of a new network that is increasing Aboriginal participation in the environmental services industry in fields such as environmental monitoring, climate change, reclamation and forestry.
The Aboriginal Environmental Services Network (AESN) – a partnership between AITF, AEMERA, Aboriginal communities and companies, government and industry – is a hub for management, communication, resource sharing and promotion of Aboriginal participation in the delivery of environmental services in Alberta.
AESN will assist in the placement of interns into positions with Aboriginal environmental services companies. They will also coordinate appropriate practical training for field technicians, assist in business development and provide advisory services for Aboriginal communities trying to establish environmental services companies.
“The establishment of the network is really building on AITF’s successful history of working with Aboriginal communities,” said AITF program lead, Dr. Shauna-Lee Chai. “We recognized the need and opportunity to provide ongoing supports that will help these communities become more effectively involved in environmental monitoring and engagement.”
Program graduates clearly recognize the benefits of the training and the community-building components of the program.
Donna Badger of Kehewin Cree Nation already has an environmental background working as an external auditor on behalf of Enform, a safety association for the oil and gas industry. She says the skills and training she is receiving from the Environmental Monitoring Training Program will enable to her to better deliver services and advocacy on behalf of Aboriginal communities.
“Aboriginal perspectives and background on the environment are extremely important. The program helped me with my work and to see how Aboriginals can help government and industry develop land-monitoring protocols that are considerate of things like sacred spaces. By meeting other program participants, it also helped me establish a network with other Aboriginal people working in the environment sector,” said Badger.
David Waniandy of the McMurray Métis has worked in the oil and gas industry for nearly 40 years. Waniandy currently works as a liaison between Fort McMurrary’s oil sands operators and Métis trappers running trap lines along the Athabasca River.
“Fort McMurray was a hub for the fur trade long before it became famous for the oil sands. Today, fur trading is still a hugely important tradition for the Métis people in the region. The program helped me better understand how to monitor environmental changes in the area. In turn, I can also be a stronger voice for local trappers as they negotiate with industry and government,” said Waniandy.
Dr. Bill Donahue, AEMERA Vice President and Chief Monitoring Officer, explains why the training program is so important.
“One of our key objectives at AEMERA is to braid Indigenous Knowledge into environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting activities throughout the province,” Donahue said. “The Aboriginal training pilot provided community members with enhanced technical skills that will enable them to actively participate in local, community-based monitoring going forward. We are very excited to have our first group of students graduating from the program.”
Based on the success of the pilot, future training programs are being planned to involve additional communities and participants in 2016-17.
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About Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures
Part of Alberta’s research and innovation system, Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF) is helping build healthy, sustainable businesses in the province. Through a suite of programs and services for entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, post-secondary institutions and investors, AITF provides technical services and funding support to facilitate the commercialization of technologies, develop new knowledge-based industry clusters and encourage an entrepreneurial culture in Alberta. www.albertatechfutures.ca
About the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency
The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) is an arm’s length provincial agency responsible for measuring, assessing and informing policy makers and the public on the condition of Alberta’s environment on key ambient air, water, land and biodiversity indicators including information necessary to understand cumulative effects. www.aemera.org