by Briana Hamilton & Mahnoor Hussain
Briana Hamilton is CPCIL’s Communications Coordinator; 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.
Mahnoor Hussain supports the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program (YESS) at Parks Canada: researching and designing a variety of pathways for youth employment opportunities within Parks Canada and with other government departments (OGDs) that deliver the YESS program. She also supports the Canadian Parks Council (CPC) Not-for-Profit policy suite update which involves reviewing and updating of CPC policy documents to align with the governance model MOU and ByLaws.
In June 2022, the Canadian Mountain Network (CMN) hosted their second annual Knowledge Sharing Summit. For those who may not know, CMN is Canada’s first formal research organization that is based on the holistic practice of braiding Indigenous and Western ways of knowing. CMN focuses their research on mountainous regions and systems in Canada as these regions impact freshwater ecosystems, natural habitats and natural resources (and more!) from coast to coast to coast.
We were invited to virtually attend this summit. Aside from being honoured – and very excited – to listen and learn, I (Briana) was born and raised very close to the Rockies – so was extra eager to gain new insights and perspectives sourcing from the place I call home. I (Mahnoor), on the other hand, live in Eastern Canada but was eager to learn about different indigenous knowledge systems on topics such as the Yukon salmon revitalization, land rights, and stewardship in the rockies and how it affects life thousands of miles away.
What We Learned
Oh boy. We could write a novel about all of the things we learned from attending this summit. We come from a combined educational background in Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership and Applied Sciences in Public Health and Safety. We have both worked in tourism, education and conservation sectors within Parks, but we still have more to learn (and always will!). We were spoiled to attend 2 full days loaded with various presentations surrounding western science, indigenous knowledge and values, policies and research projects. We can’t dive into each topic, but here are a couple of published projects you may be interested in learning about:
The Shútagot’ine Cultural Landscape Project
Overall, it was empowering and uplifting to see all the incredible work that’s happening across the country.
Our New Perspective: Be a Thread in the Braid
One thing is certain: The problems that exist within Parks and Protected Areas, such as the climate crisis, are very complex. We often find ourselves overwhelmed with the swarms of information about these issues. We’re sure, however, that the sense of feeling overwhelmed is felt amongst all.
To top-off this information overload, Parks and Protected Areas face the complex history and conflicting values and practices between indigenous and colonial ways of life. We recognize the negatives and wrongdoings of colonialism, but we also recognize the merit of western science… yet we also recognize the legitimacy and authenticity of traditional knowledge. So where to start? What’s the proper way to approach things? How can these 2 knowledge bases work together?
Joe Dragon, Chair of CMN, mentioned something in the Summit that stuck with us: Indigenous and Western Knowledge is not to be blended – it is to be braided. In other words, as we understand it, these knowledge bases aren’t intended to overtake or get lost in each other, but are to work together to support each other and create a stronger knowledge base system. This is a powerful statement that we will certainly carry with us throughout our lives and careers.
Braids are made by interlacing multiple strands together, with each strand being composed of several smaller strands of material. As individuals, we may not be able to offer a full or complete strand (in this case a knowledge base) to the braid, but we can certainly contribute a smaller strand of material – our knowledge – to collectively build strong strands with our communities. With these strands, one heck of a braid – and one heck of a better knowledge base system – can be built and supported together.
This will truly come handy as we are individuals who feel a little in over our heads working in the Parks and Conservation sector at times – the problems are immensely huge and we inevitably let too much of that weight sit on our shoulders. But this statement has shed some refreshing light on this. We don’t need to carry all that weight and try to solve the problems on our own – we just need to contribute our thread(s) of knowledge.
The Power of Youth: a Notable Point of Discussion
A recurring point of discussion throughout the summit was that youth are the future – and that there is a need to connect with and amplify youth to better tackle the complex problems we face. This notion is not the first time we have heard this – CPCIL, for one, is certainly an active supporter of this. Youth naturally have a special connection with nature – they provide new and unbiased perspectives that are less influenced by policy and social structure. They also share something in common with Parks and Protected Areas experts: passion. The challenge is, they don’t have the means or power to formalize social or corporate change. In the Parks and Protected Areas world, youth are involved, such as through ambassador programs and entry level positions, but how can Parks be better at welcoming and amplifying youth to improve Parks and Protected Areas?
In all honesty, this isn’t a simple answer. But we must say, being young professionals ourselves, having the opportunity to listen and participate in higher-level activities and discussions, such as attending this CMN Summit, provided us with new knowledge, and fresh motivation to make a difference going forward in our careers.
Thank you again to the Canadian Mountain Network, as well Don, Senior Fellow of CPCIL, for inviting and welcoming us to join CMN’s 2022 Knowledge Sharing Summit. You have provided more confidence and curiosity in emerging Parks and Protected Areas leaders.