Capstone F: Pathways to Cultural Competency

This post was written to report the work of Capstone Team F, one of the teams of Park Leaders involved in the Winter 2021 Park Leaders Development Program

Team Members: Sarah Boyle, Brendan Buggeln, Megan Bull, Rachel Goldstein, Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Tobi Kiesewalter

The federal and provincial governments of Canada have made commitments to advance reconciliation and renew relationships with Indigenous peoples based on rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. The road towards reconciliation is inevitably complex and difficult, and should involve the participation of all Canadians, on both a personal and professional level.

Every park, marine protected area, and heritage site administered by a parks organization in Canada is located within the traditional and ancestral territory of Indigenous peoples. This creates both an opportunity and a responsibility for parks leaders to advance reconciliation and foster respectful and positive relationships with Indigenous partners and communities.

Capstone Team F acknowledged that many non-Indigenous conservation staff, including at senior levels, have limited knowledge about how to develop cultural competency. While many staff want to learn more, they are often unsure where to start or become overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of resources, especially those designed for staff already experienced in working with Indigenous partners. As high-level discussions of reconciliation within parks continue to advance, there is a risk that the knowledge ‘ceiling’ may leave the ‘floor’ behind unless appropriate tools are available to help all parks employees develop baseline cultural competencies.

Capstone Team F’s goal was to create a collection of reconciliation-focused resources which allowed learners to proceed at their own pace. The resources were curated to allow for a natural progression from foundational learning on Indigenous communities and the impacts of colonialism toward constructive action to advance truth and reconciliation. To achieve this, the Team developed a user- friendly resource package, comprised of a thematically-organized database of resources and a suite of 12 learning pathways, all of which feature an organized set of resources centred around a particular theme. Most pathways are designed for learners with limited background of Canada-Indigenous relations, and each lists a Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Call to Action” which it aims to support.

The database and example pathways are by no means comprehensive, but provide a solid basis from which to begin a learning journey. The resource package may be used by supervisors to coordinate training sessions for staff (though it should never replace in-person training or the hiring of an Indigenous consultant), or it may be used by individual parks leaders for independent learning. The resource package is designed to develop cultural competency to help parks leaders advance reconciliation in their personal lives, in their professional relationships, and in their work. Above all, the resource package is intended to be a springboard for further learning, and to provide individual motivation for advancing reconciliation at a team, departmental or organizational level.

Recommendations for expanding the scope and increasing the impact of this work include:

Housing the database and learning pathways on a learning platform, such as the CPCIL website, where other users can continue to update the content

  • Testers, or site users, could provide feedback to help refine the tool, with the potential to add in a comment section or rating system so people can rate their experience with each resource as they use them.
  • The webpage would ideally be made publicly available, to make it accessible to a broader audience (e.g., teachers, municipal staff, health care workers).
  • Expansion of the database and pathways or the addition of other learning tools by future Capstone teams
  • A number of themes could continue to be explored and have pathways developed for them in the future, including but not limited to:
    • Northern cultural competency
    • Ethical Space
    • Environmental justice
    • Food sovereignty
    • Indigenous story and law
    • Status of women
    • Health
    • Language
    • Removing barriers to access
  • Some agencies, such as Parks Canada and the Federal Public Service, have invested significant resources towards creating in-depth learning websites and training resources, but these resources are not available publicly, even to other civil servants. Consideration should be given to options for providing access to these excellent resources to all civic servants, or the general public.

It is our hope that this Capstone project, and our recommendations for expanding the scope of the work, will contribute to existing efforts to advance understanding of Truth and Reconciliation in the public service. We have aimed to create a simple yet effective introduction to cultural competency, which may be useful to learners of all knowledge levels and spark motivation for a much deeper learning journey.

Webinar Summary – Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People Webinar

Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) is an international initiative aimed at increasing the overall health and wellness of individuals through positive interactions with nature. The goal of HPHP, according to Ontario Parks, is to “use health to engage people with parks who may not be otherwise engaged and increase awareness of health benefits of parks with the overarching goal of improving health of Ontarians.” This webinar focused on evaluating the efficacy of HPHP as an initiative through community and stakeholder feedback and in situ surveying on parks premises.


  • Anne Craig, Ontario Parks
  • Catherine Reining, Wilfred Laurier University

5 Key Takeaways

  1. After five years of the HPHP program being implemented by Ontario Parks, they held a large public consultation in 2019 with largely positive feedback.
  2. Some engagement and communication strategies of HPHP focused on signature events that links parks with health, such as days for free access to parks and challenges to spend time outside. HPHP-themed social campaigns, such as those around mental health, were some of the most popular topics.
  3. Some of the key barriers to accessing the benefits of HPHP include affordability, transportation, accessibility for diverse audiences, the need for more time, and the need for more green space and continued protection of green space.
  4. Research on the role parks and protected areas play in health promotion found that 95% of respondents felt visits to natural areas were important for improving wellbeing and health.
  5. Research found that high restorative outcomes were experienced by participants, irrespective of length of stay, and environment type is not a determining factor. However, the perceived quality of the environment experienced was important.

What I’ve Learned About Learning: University Degrees for Parks People

Close up of hands on laptop, woman sitting on park bench in nature.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

There are a lot of ways to come to Parks. People from all backgrounds end up working in Parks. Some actively chose this route — they worked in parks as teenagers, picked a green degree, interned in conservation fields, anything that would lead to a career in parks. Others, like myself, kind of just fell into it somewhere along the way. As one of my university professors, Joe Pavelka, likes to say, “There are a lot of ways to live a life, and most of them are good.” I believe this applies to Parks as well — there are a lot of ways to come to Parks, and most of them are good. 

That being said, the more I get to know park leaders, the less clear I am about what that actually entails. These wonderful people have opened my eyes to a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences, all of which make up the parks world beyond a singular definition. More and more, the parks field is becoming an interdisciplinary playground filled with jacks of all trades.

This fact is partially what made my task of curating a degree list so complicated. While I hope that this list is a meaningful resource for those looking to pursue or further a “green” type education specifically relating to Parks, this list was made through my own lens of what I’ve seen from current Park Leaders, what I understand to be the direction of Parks in general, and what I personally would like to see be a part of the future of Parks. 

Plenty of Paths in Parks Professions

Within that struggle to define a Park Professional also lies the question of the definition of Parks. There are National Parks, Provincial Parks, Municipal Parks, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Marine Protected Areas, and hundreds of other protected land designations across Canada, and they all need a variety of people to run the show. The breadth of knowledge and experience required by parks is vast, however, a list that includes every area of expertise would not have been that helpful of a resource. Applicable programs such as Human Resources, Organizational Management, and even Environmental Engineering were mostly left off of this list due to their non-specificity to Parks or environmental protection in general. Geology and Anthropology are also rarely found on the list as Geology often focused on resource extraction rather than land protection and Anthropology often lacked an environmental element. Some green sounding degrees were also left out because their focus was in agriculture and crop production. I am not perfect, however, and I am certain that some things have snuck in that shouldn’t have, and other things were left out that should have been included. 

While I aimed to be as unbiased as possible in my creation of this list, it is never possible to be truly neutral. Being a part of something, creating something, means it was created through your worldview, and that’s okay. I come from a humanities background, so you’ll definitely see my bias show up in this list. Because of this, I tended to give a little more wiggle room to degrees that involved community development, leadership, Indigenous studies, and the kind of social equity programs you might not typically associate with parks. I believe that diversity includes a diversity of educational backgrounds. By no means am I trying to overshadow some much more abhorrent inclusion issues that parks across the nation are tackling such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion, but some of these degrees reflect the knowledge and interests of the people often left out of the conversation.

I was also more likely to include the certificate or diploma in some topics rather than a full degree, as they made more sense as complementary knowledge rather than an educational focus for someone aiming to be a parks professional. Therefore, the following list will generally fall into one or more of these topics:

  • Environmental Sciences/Studies
  • Environmental Management
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Tourism/Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Guiding/Adventure Studies
  • Sustainability/Sustainable Development

If you are interested in a general cacophony of these niches, this list was made for you.

Canadian Parks Relevant Degrees List

British Columbia


Graduate Studies:












*Included more agricultural programs given the location and focus on agriculture in the province






Programmes de 1er Cycle: 

Études Supérieures:


Programmes de 1er cycle:

Etudes Supérieures:











Newfoundland and Labrador





Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

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Prince Edward Island

Method of auditing:

  • Degrees that resulted in careers linked to the Parks and Protected Areas field (environmental consultants, parks planners, etc) were normally included 
  • Reputable Indigenous Studies programs, particularly ones with environmental/planning links, were normally included
  • Programs with required courses that pertained to the interests of Parks and Protected areas were normally included
  • Major degree programs that are offered at most Universities such as Human Resources, Operations Management, Engineering, etc, were mostly excluded from this list as they are not directly linked to Parks and are readily available at many Universities. 
  • Specializations that were only offered as minors were also primarily excluded from this list. Exceptions were made in cases where outstanding or unique programs were found. 
  • Format for listing programs may vary slightly between schools depending on how the school presented information i.e some schools highlight exceptional minor programs and so more minors were included 

Which Universities made the list:

The list was determined using the Government of Canada’s List of Designated Educational Institutions and setting the filter to “University” for each province. An exception was made for Mount Royal University, which is designated as a Junior College on this list but has recently attained its University status. Vocational schools, technical colleges, and private institutions are not a part of this list.


Designation – Major: Specialization or Concentration


Bachelor of Arts – Geography: Human Geography (All Three Components)

Bachelor of Science – Environmental Science (Designation and Major)

Bachelor of Resource Management (Specialized Designation, no listed Major or Concentration)

Do you know of a really great program related to parks? Leave us a comment below, we would love to see what you are all learning! 

Resource Spotlight – Wildsmart

WildSmart human-wildlife coexistence program logo.


WildSmart is an organisation based in the Bow Valley dedicated to reducing negative human-wildlife interactions in the area. Established in 2009 as a branch of the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, WildSmart has grown over the last decade to reach thousands of residents and visitors alike [1].

WildSmart logo
Go to website.
“Wildsmart is a proactive conservation program that encourages efforts by the Bow Valley communities to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions”

In the last few decades, the Bow Valley has grown in popularity, becoming a major tourist destination. Canmore, in particular, has transformed from a small mining town into a mountain retreat [2]. The increase in population, infrastructure, and activity in the Bow Valley has caused conflict between the native wildlife and the region’s commercial development. WildSmart was established as a resource to educate the public on the importance of wildlife coexistence and to implement initiatives to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions [1]. It is an excellent example of a program that is turning conflict into coexistence.

Why the Bow Valley?

The Bow Valley is an important wildlife corridor used by many large mammal species, such as elk, bears, wolves, and cougars. Many key species in the Bow Valley region require a large amount of space and are highly migratory or transient [1]. The Bow Valley wildlife corridor connects the larger, surrounding areas of Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country allowing both populations to safely roam. The combination of the wildlife corridor and habitat loss in the Bow Valley due to development has resulted in the Canmore area having significant wildlife in close proximity to human activity [2]. WildSmart has made great strides to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions

Primary Initiatives

Wildlife Reports: WildSmart publishes weekly Bear Reports from April through November to report bear sightings in the Bow Valley and Banff Area. Their Current Trail Warnings and Closures resource shows real time trail closures and warnings in Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country due to wildlife activity [1].

Attractant Management: The attractant management program is aimed at removing any potential food sources for wildlife from densely inhabited or frequented areas. Attractant management focuses on natural and unnatural food sources from buffalo berry removal to proper garbage disposal. WildSmart also provides free equipment rental for attractant removal [1].

Wildlife Ambassadors: Wildlife ambassadors are community volunteers trained by WildSmart to assist in public outreach and education, avoiding or handling wildlife encounters, and conflict resolution. Wildlife ambassadors interact with the community in an educational capacity through roving and stationary wildlife talks. Currently, the Wildlife Ambassador program is undergoing changes to incorporate new initiatives such as citizen science and social media campaigns [1].

Education and Community Outreach: Education and outreach is congruent with several of the aforementioned initiatives. This program includes interacting with schools in the community to provide classroom programs and supporting teachers by providing educational materials. WildSmart also hosts several community events, such as bear spray training sessions, a speaker series, and education through media outlets [1].

Resource Spotlight – Khutz Grizzlies

Khutz grizzlies graphic

Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary (K’tzim-a-deen) comprises 44,300 hectares of protected land. It is jointly managed by British Columbia Parks, the Coast Tsimshian First Nation, and the Gitsi’is Tribe [1]. The area is protected to preserve an important habitat for the grizzly bear population and an area of significant cultural importance. The Khutzeymateen is located 45 km northwest of Prince Rupert, BC and is accessible by boat or floatplane [2].

Go to website.
The Tsimshian Nation’s K’tzim-a-deen means “Valley at the head of the inlet” [1]
Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary comprises Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Khutzeymateen Inlet Conservency, and Khutzeymateen Inlet West Conservancy. The provincial park was established in 1994 as a Class A provincial park. It was the first area in Canada to be protected specifically for the preservation of grizzly bears [1]. As a class A provincial park, conservation in the park is prioritized over human use. In 2008, the Inlet and Inlet West Conservancy were established to provide further protection to the area [1]. Visitor access is restricted to a fixed number of permits per year and access to the river estuary is only permitted with a guide or for research purposes [2].

Key Strategies for Conservation

Maintain flora and fauna: Flora and fauna in the protected area are maintained for its inherent value to the environment as well as its traditional value to the Coast Tsimshian Nation. Inventories and assessments are conducted for culturally important resources and sensitive species or species at risk, and protective measures are implemented when necessary. Protective measures include ecological restoration, educational initiatives, supporting water quality monitoring, and many more [2].

Protect plant and animal species: The protected areas serve as a habitat for significant plant and animal species. The Khutzeymateen watershed is an important spawning location for multiple species of salmon. The shoreline and estuary are of high biological importance for waterfowl, waterbirds, pacific salmon, salmonid stocks, and grizzly bears. The diversity of nutrient-rich forbs and sedges contribute to the health of the grizzly bear habitat. Along with grizzly bears, the area is an important habitat for black bears and mountain goats [2].

Protect special features of the environment: The Khutzeymateen encompasses many special environmental features including multiple biogeoclimatic subzones and the Crow Lagoon. The Crow Lagoon is a special feature because it protects what is thought to be a volcanic cone and is also the source of a story told by Coast Tsimshian elders. Special feature zones have restricted activities and facilities so as to maintain the integrity of the sites [2].

Protect Coast Tsimshian cultural uses: The Khutzeymateen is an important area for the Coast Tsimshian Nation for social, ceremonial, cultural, and economic purposes. The area has historically been used for harvesting, gathering, and hunting and is still used for those purposes today. The Gitsi’is do not hunt Grizzly bears, believing that “the soul of a person that dies may reincarnate into the Grizzly bear” [2, pg. 11]. Multiple archaeological sites have also been discovered in the Khutzeymateen protected areas [2].

Provide controlled Grizzly Bear viewing: Standards of practice have been implemented within the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. Grizzly bear viewing is controlled by training viewing guides in bear behaviour, regulating viewing distances and number of viewing groups, regulating access to the park, and improving education surrounding safe interactions with and conservation of Grizzly bears [2].

Why the Khutzeymateen?

The Khutzeymateen was designated as a protected area for grizzly bears because of the rich and diverse habitat, abundant food sources, and cultural importance for the Coast Tsimshian Nation [1]. The Khutzeymateen is home to one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in Canada [1]. Grizzly bears require a large home range within a functional ecosystem that will provide them with a variety of food sources and prey availability [2]. The Khutzeymateen estuary provides a vital source of salmon for Grizzly bears as well as mussels and other molluscs on which to forage. The diverse topography of the park also provides an important habitat for shore birds, aquatic animals, and other flora and fauna [2].

Resource Spotlight – Eco-Whale Alliance

Eco-Whale Alliance

The Eco-Whale Alliance, or Alliance Éco-Baleine, is an initiative operating out of Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park. The Alliance is a member-based organization aimed at highlighting best practice for whale-watching activities to minimize or eliminate any negative impacts on marine mammals [1].

Eco-Whale Alliance logo
Go to website.
"The users of a resource are responsible for ensuring its sustainability"
Eco-Whale Alliance

The Eco-Whale Alliance was born out of a need for stricter guidelines regarding animal wellbeing in the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park. Members include excursion companies operating out of the marine park, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), Sépaq, and Parks Canada. The Eco-Whale Alliance is working to ensure every stakeholder involved in whale-watching ecotourism is invested in sustainable tourism and the conservation of large marine mammals [1].

Primary Initiatives

Marine Activities Management Plan: The purpose of the Marine Activities Management Plan is to enforce the marine park’s mandate to “increase, for the benefit of the present and future generations, the level of protection of the ecosystems of a representative portion of the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence Estuary for conservation purposes, while encouraging its use for educational, recreational and scientifc purposes”. The management plan was put in place in 2011 and set out a detailed action plan to ensure the mandate is respected [3].

Guide to Eco-Responsible Practices: The Guide to Eco-Responsible Practices serves as a manual for marine tour captians and naturalists. It is a comprehensive guide focusing on passenger interactions and navigation within the marine park. The guide emphasizes the importance of education and interpretation as part of a sustainable whale-watching experience. In particular, it emphasizes the role of captians and naturalists as stewards of the land. It is their responsibility to ensure proper respect is given to the marine mammals that guests have the privilege of interacting with [4].

Eco-Whale Fund: The Eco-Whale Fund was established to support whale research, training, and education in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. It is primarily funded by excursion companies operating in the marine park, which are involved in the Eco-Whale Alliance. Funds are directed towards monitoring and training programs, as well as research and development projects [1].

Why the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park?

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is a key habitat for many whale species and is therefore one of the best places in the world for whale-watching [2]. The upwelling zone in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park causes essential nutrients to be pushed towards the surface of the water, providing an essential food source for the whale species that inhabit the area [2]. The most common whale species in the marine park are Beluga, Blue, Right, Fin, Minke, and Humpback whales and the Harbour porpoise. Within the Atlantic populations of these seven species, three are endangered, two are special concern, and two are not at risk [2].

Goals for Sustainable Whale Watching

The Eco-Whale Alliance has set out the following criteria for excursion companies to ensure sustainable whale watching [1]:

  • Emphasize raising awareness of whale conservation
  • Limit the impacts of whale watching activities
  • Monitor the animals and the effectiveness of management measures
  • Follow responsible practices from an environmental, social, and economic point of view
  • Develop a multilateral approach to conservation by consulting tourism, research, and conservation stakeholders

Unearthing Restorative Justice in a Parks Setting

By Capstone Team E – Travis Halliday, Maria O’Hearn, Kelly Stein, Jennifer Szakacs

This project was completed as part of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program, an applied leadership program exploring transformative leadership approaches to complex park issues and concepts.

Restorative justice is a criminal justice approach with the goal of healing both victim and offender.  It aims for participation with all involved while holding offenders responsible for their actions and encouraging introspection of the cause of their behaviour.

This approach is increasingly being applied across Canada leading to better outcomes for both victims and offenders. However, its application in a parks and protected areas context in Canada is unknown.

Our objective as a capstone team in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program was to pull the curtain back to find out if and how the process is used within our parks collective. This would result in a snapshot of the current state of restorative justice that others looking to venture down this road could access.

Photo by Ben den Engelsen / Unsplash

Our preliminary research of journals, news articles and other online resources turned up very little on the use of restorative justice within a parks context. So were we boldly going where no one has gone before? A bit more time plus a thorough jurisdictional review and numerous interviews would tell.

We set out to delve deeper into restorative justice application in a conservation context to get a baseline of usage from jurisdictions across Canada. Our online survey posed questions to the Canadian Parks Council network like:

  • Who is using restorative justice?
  • What cases are referred?
  • What training is used?
  • What challenges are faced?

So, did we boldly go into uncharted territory? Most certainly. We received six responses from across the country, five of which do not use restorative justice and one respondent applies restorative justice in a marine conservation context.  The responses received, along with the fairly low response rate, indicates that restorative justice is not widely used in parks and protected areas.

However, our interviews with subject matter experts show that restorative justice is applied in other contexts, such as offences involving wildlife and natural resource-related enforcement. This presents an opportunity to build a restorative justice program for parks and protected areas by basing it on these related programs.  There is more work that can be done to dig deeper.

Bull elk bugling in a grass field with elk herd.
Photo by Briana Touzour / Unsplash

Recommendations for further work to promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada include:

  1. Follow up with survey respondent from the jurisdiction currently applying restorative justice to build a case study.
  2. Develop case studies in related fields such as wildlife offences which could provide the groundwork for developing restorative justice programs in parks and protected areas.
  3. Promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada through the Canadian Parks Council network.
  4. Start a forum devoted to restorative justice on the CPCIL website to facilitate information exchange among interested practitioners.
  5. Consider revisiting this topic to explore how restorative justice is applied in 5-10 years.

The benefits of restorative justice are far-reaching yet underutilized in parks and protected areas. So we have a mission for a future capstone team: to go boldly into this new world of restorative justice in a parks and protected areas context. We are keen to see what the future holds.

What restorative justice programs or examples have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below.

2020 Canadian Parks Council Awards

Each year the Canadian Parks Council (CPC) presents Agency and Individual Awards of Excellence to recognize and encourage extraordinary achievement, innovation, organizational leadership and the advancement of park and protected areas programs by Canada’s national, provincial and territorial park agencies. This year, this special awards ceremony will be delivered virtually and co-hosted with CPCIL on its 1st Thursday Webinar Series. Join the leadership of the CPC and CPCIL as we offer a virtual glimpse of the work of parks across Canada while we honour and acknowledge excellence within Canada’s extraordinary parks community.

Watch the recording (English)

Regarder l’enregistrement(Français)


Individual Awards of Excellence

Eddie Ramsay
Assistant Maintenance Foreman, Killbear Provincial Park
Ontario Parks
Derek Petersen
Ecological Integrity Monitoring Ecologist
Parks Canada

Agency Award of Excellence

BC Parks
Accessibility Guarantee
Parks Canada
Restoration of Cap-des-Rosiers Beach in Forillon National Park
Saskatchewan Parks
Program Innovation during COVID-19

Micah Messent Young Professional Award of Excellence

Kristen Bartmann and Logan MacDonald

Nova Scotia Parks