Bridging traditional Indigenous knowledge with science and environmental issues

The Youth for Water program was created to empower Indigenous youth in the Peterborough, Ontario area with an interest in becoming water leaders who are unsure of which direction to take their passion. It is a shared project between Sacred Water Circle and Green Communities Canada and is funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation – Youth Opportunities Fund. The program focuses on bridging traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture with science and environmental issues to deliver a project that provides youth (ages 18-25) with an opportunity to learn about water issues and become involved in water protection and conservation.

At the core of the youth programming are three aspects; skills building, job shadowing and mentorships which work together to empower Indigenous youth through experiential learning. This program seeks to give youth the necessary skills, tools, knowledge and understanding of traditional ecological knowledge which will lead them to solutions and action locally, nationally and globally.

Youth participants in this program have gained knowledge about the sacredness of water and have been taught different traditional ways of expressing reverence for water. They are passionate about water and water issues, and would like to learn how to turn this passion into tangible projects that reflect their respect for water. Through creating their own community based projects, they will become confident water leaders and will passionately work to find solutions to water issues in their home communities.

Kristin Muskratt and Nathaniel Cummings, both from Curve Lake First Nation, collaborated on a project that will be located at the Curve Lake First Nation School. The project will consist of six information sessions and two gardens planted in the school yard. The information sessions will teach the children of Curve Lake the historical uses and importance of the four traditional medicines (Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar and Tobacco), and the sacredness of water. One garden will be a Rain and Sensory Garden, and the other will be a Traditional Medicine Garden. The gardens aim to bring awareness to water issues, to keep Indigenous culture alive, and to promote a greater sense of responsibility towards water and the environment.

Amber Pitawanakwat from Whitefish River First Nation is a student at Trent University and in the Indigenous Environmental Sciences program. Her project will be a Rain Garden at the Shawanosowe School, in Whitefish River First Nation, which runs from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6. By gearing this project towards youth engagement it has the potential to impact the community in a very meaningful way. The garden will be able to teach students about the water cycle, climate change and also give them a chance to be stewards of the environment. This project will also introduce the community to green infrastructure and sustainable methods of storm water management.

Crystal Cowie of Hiawatha First Nation along with Pitawanakwat, facilitated a Turtle workshop for the children of Hiawatha at the Black Oak Savannah located in Alderville First Nation for a March Break day camp. The focus of the workshop was to bridge western scientific knowledge of turtle biodiversity and habitat conservation with traditional Indigenous teachings that revolve around the turtle to foster admiration and respect for these animals and their homes.

Crystal Cowie also aims to create and develop a promotional resource documentary for the Youth for Water program by June 2017. The focus of creating this is to promote the Youth for Water program to Indigenous youth and invoke a passion and interest in this unique opportunity. The documentary will give an in-depth look at what the program is all about and how it came to fruition. It will also feature interviews with current participants, key players, volunteers, youth and the general public about their exposure to the program and footage of the project events that each of the participants hosts in their home communities.

Youth for Water hopes to engage youth in other communities. It is important that youth learn how to protect the water and environment to make it every day behaviour for future generations. It has been a very successful pilot year and there are hopes that Youth for Water will expand and continue for many years to come.

By Kristin Muskratt

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