The Significance of Meaningful Partnerships and Their Role in On-the-Ground Reconciliation

by Brodie Schmidt & Robert Howey

Brodie Schmidt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, eco-social 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 is growing recognition within the environmental field regarding the importance of genuine collaborations between Indigenous partners with both public and private organizations. Agencies are becoming more aware of how harmful shallow consultation processes can be for partners, as Gray (2016) highlights when discussing advancing reconciliation through meaningful consultation in a report to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Gray notes “Many viewed Canada’s approach as largely a one-size-fits-all box-ticking exercise that fails to meaningfully address their concerns and relies too heavily on industry proponents and regulatory processes. Aboriginal groups also raised concerns with the content and implementation of existing guidance for federal officials and their own capacity to participate in consultation given their limited resources. Notably, their criticisms were not limited to the federal government. Many had equally negative or worse comments about the approaches taken by many provinces and territories in this area.”

Although this is an issue that transcends beyond the boundaries of this field, parks and protected areas are in opportune positions to lead this shift towards genuine partnership building. I sat down with one of these leaders, Rob Howey, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Executive Director of Atlantic, with Parks Canada. Rob is currently working to build novel approaches to rights implementation with Parks Canada and the Peace and Friendship Treaty nations in Atlantic Canada. Through his current lens and his experience in various parks projects like Bring Back the Boreal, we will be discussing this larger topic regarding the significance of meaningful partnerships and their role in on-the-ground reconciliation efforts.

Rob suggests that often as park leaders, “we have an idea, and then we go to the partner with the idea, rather than sitting down with the partner and collaborating on recognizing that there’s a shared value or shared issue, and partnering to solve… I think one of the reasons that the moose project was so successful in Cape Breton was because there was a shared value, and there was a shared interest. There was a shared recognition that something needs to be done about the hyper abundance of moose and the moose population’s health, which was very important to the Mi’kmaq. And so right from there, there is a lot of momentum to get a project going.”

Mi’kmaq Moose Petroglyph, sourced from Author’s [Rob] personal collection

This point that Rob highlights, regarding relationship building before a project is implemented, relates well to a term introduced by Indigenous leaders like Willie Ermine, Danika Littlechild, Reg Crowshoe, and Eli Enns: the Ethical Space. By firstly establishing a respect for the different worldviews and various ways of knowing that will be coming together in a partnership, we see a space open between these distinct partners; “the sacred space of the ethical helps us balance these moral considerations as we discuss issues that are transcultural, or trans-boundary in nature” (Ermine, 2007; pp. 195 – 196). Through firstly respecting the distinctness between worldviews, we can then begin to find shared values.

How can park leaders imbue ethical space while still working within their agencies’ mandates?

In Rob’s experience, it often boils down to your ability to build human-to-human relationships. Although relationship building seems like second nature to many, it’s a craft with no scientific means – often making it difficult to operationalize through park agencies. 

As Rob explains, “Regarding the relationship piece… I think it’s just about being open to the possibility that I’ve got to learn about this person and community, I’ve got to get to know this person and community and understand what is important to them, and in recognizing, again, you’re just a human being. At the same time, as a government representative, you must also recognize and acknowledge the history of this country and the role the government played in that history with Indigenous peoples.  When you are having these discussions, words and actions are important; commitments and following through on those commitments is important – that’s how you build trust. And that is true of any relationship. Recognizing that people are different and that this is another human relationship, I think is very helpful.” 

As noted, relationship building is difficult to operationalize. To help make this discussion applicable to park leaders, we can look to Rob’s experiences with the Bring Back the Boreal project for some tangible examples.

A Conversation About Lessons Learned from the CBHNP Bring Back the Boreal Program

Brodie: You’ve said that building relationships can be kind of daunting for park leaders sometimes, or maybe there’s nervousness of not knowing how to go into it, could you highlight some means of building relationships?

Rob: I have a story from a couple of years ago that could apply here:

We worked very closely with the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) and Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn (KMK) to co-develop moose management plans and the Bring Back the Boreal Project in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Following the project’s conclusion, we knew that we wanted to continue working together, just as we had done prior to the project as well. I set up a meeting at a coffee shop to talk about funding and what we might like to do next. So, we sat down, and I asked, “what do you guys want to work on next year, what’s important for your organization right now?” Being very open, I knew how much funding we might have to work with, but I also didn’t want to say, “well we’ve got this, so let’s do X-Y-Z”. I want to hear what they want to work on, what’s important to them and if there is an opportunity to work together on it. […] And maybe there’s not an obvious project right away, but maybe two years down the road you’re like, “oh yeah, there’s this thing we both have an interest in, and we can work together on this”, and that’s when those coffees you were going for every few months and chatting really made it worth it. Rather than, “oh no, we’ve got an issue and now we have to figure out how to solve it”.

In this scenario, even though there was a well-established working relationship, it was important to approach things under the premise that we are still learning about our shared values and priorities, especially because they can change. So, whether it is a well-established relationship, or a relatively new one, the approach remains the same: be open, learn, grow, don’t assume too much, and find common values. 

And I think another key piece getting a little bit beyond the coffee chat, is about the self-determination piece. Recognizing that our funding structures often are very prescriptive on how the money shall be spent, and what exactly needs to be done, and you must write a 10-page report on all the activities after it’s been done to show that the money was spent this way… That can be patronizing; for the government to support Indigenous initiatives, but only in this way, or by meeting these prescribed targets. […] If you want to spend it in a different way, or the way you see fit to achieve the results, that’s self-determination. In another way, sometimes there is a budget already decided or, “here’s how much is available” – but was the Indigenous community or organization consulted on how much funding would be needed?

The Self-Determination Piece 

Brodie: The self-determination piece is significant, and from my understanding is still a fairly novel approach in this line of work. I mean it’s not a crazy concept, I guess what I struggle with there is just that rights are assumed, but on paper they’re often contested. Could you speak a bit more to your experiences with self-determination?

Rob: Yeah, that’s one key that my predecessor Derek Quann said to me and that he always put in presentations related to the Bring Back the Boreal Project. When you go into these discussions there’s no questions about whether their rights exist or not. The rights exist and it is assumed so.

So, I think being less prescriptive on how things are done, that’s another key piece; In general, regarding relationship building, being open to the process… You both recognize you want to get to a certain end point, so being open to how you get there. I would also add that truly incorporating, interweaving, Indigenous knowledge and worldviews, and how you do that, is very important as well. Because ultimately, what are we really talking about? We’re talking about doing things in a way that makes sense for the national park, if possible, but at the end of the day if the Mi’kmaq want to do X, Y, and Z, they can.

For Example 

One of the key components of the Bring Back the Boreal Project was that it was co-developed and co-managed between the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and Parks Canada. I was a co-manager of the project operations with a colleague from UINR. So, we jointly made decisions all the time, including when to initiate or end operations. We needed to decide together if the weather was not ideal to support harvesting operations that day, when harvest crews would be active, site logistics and safety. Everything was discussed. In selecting Mi’kmaw harvesters, it was up to the Mi’kmaq to decide – their rights are assumed, and they determined who should carry that aspect of the project out. It was really important to let folks on the ground – from the project managers, to harvesters, and parks operations folks, to work together closely and have decision making power in real time, rather than to be told how things should go or waiting for approvals. It empowered people to make decisions and develop trust in each other and from senior leadership as well.

On the Ground Perspective of Bring Back the Boreal Project, sourced from author’s [Rob] personal collection.

Shifting a Societal Thought

Brodie: How do you manage the contentions from other stakeholders or local interest groups with these kinds of projects? 

Rob: It’s tough, but I don’t think that contention could have been avoided for this case, because the only way to avoid that would have been not to do the project. I think this is about shifting a societal thought, an idea about how we view our protected areas. I have this conversation all the time about how not all protected areas are the same and nor should they be!  […] How humans interact with our landscapes, our traditional view of how parks are, are that they are exclusionary. They exclude humans, and they are preserving something in situ for all time. Well, that’s fine to keep out intentionally harmful interests, but with climate change, you know, that’s not a reality anymore. 

As we know, the conservation conundrum is about weaving a mosaic of different protections across the landscape and understanding that there are areas that require different kinds of protections. It’s not just about protecting a few parks and then we’re done. It’s about more than that. It’s about understanding how we interact with our landscape, and how we as humans interact with nature in a sustainable way. That’s to say we’re part of it, rather than separate from it […]. The reason I bring that up is that I think as a society we need to understand how we interact with our landscape and how we create sustainable practices. So, part of that is a challenge to communicate because I think people still have that old worldview about “this is what a park is, and this is what a park should be”. I think that’s a challenge. 

I think a large aspect of this shift in conservation culture is about encouraging vulnerable conversations, creating a safe and brave space, acknowledging folks’ concerns, and showing people that our concepts of nature, the environment, and protection (including how and why parks have been established under exclusionary premises over time) have shifted. We, as park leaders, continue to shift and learn as well; and on the note of park leaders’ experience here, I think its also important to highlight the importance of patience. As much as we would like to push these things forward quickly, meaningful change often takes time, and we need to be patient while moving through this process.

Can we Operationalize a Paradigm Shift?

Brodie: This discussion of shifting a societal thought is a very large topic to tackle. Are there any lessons learned from your experience on how park leaders can work towards this? 

Rob:  I think the biggest thing that was learned from my perspective, […] [is the importance of] communication with our staff. As we know, our staff are the ambassadors in the community, and so we need to make sure that we educate and support our staff to understand, even if it doesn’t affect their work directly, we really need to focus on supporting our staff to understand what this means, what it doesn’t mean, how they can answer questions, how do we equip people to be able to answer the questions that they need to answer? that they have for themselves too.

For Example  

For example, there were times where I was at the grocery store and somebody bumps into me and says, “hey, what’s going on with that project?”; I’d be golfing, and there would be strangers asking me to tell them about “that moose thing”. But that happens all over, whether you’re driving a plow truck, at the front gate, an interpreter, or cleaning privies, people know you work at the park and they come up to you. Whether they are in the community, like I said, while you’re buying groceries, or whether you’re in uniform in the park. 

Through this example, Rob highlights the importance of supporting all staff in understanding what these projects mean, and what they don’t mean.

 I think ’that’s my biggest lesson learned, it goes back to the stakeholder questions. ’You’re not going to convince everybody instantly, and you ’can’t worry about convincing everybody. But it is about making your best efforts to try and meet people where they are at and bring folks along.[…] It is really about the privilege of who does and does not have access to space that is supposed to be accessible to all.

To Wrap Up…

My hope of sharing this conversation between Rob and I is to elevate this brightspot case study of parks and protected leaders addressing the underlying values at play within their systems, in novel ways. What began as a conversation about building meaningful partnerships, quickly elevated to a much larger conversation around the way our systems and society think about what belongs in a park and how it ought to be managed.

Trying to approach complex topics, like [re]Conciliation in Parks and Protected Areas, can seem daunting for an individual leader at a local level. By allowing yourself to frame event-level issues within the greater context of these overarching values, however, leaders are given a unique opportunity to implement and operationalize projects that both a) address locally-based issues and b) speak to the overarching systemic issues becoming more and more apparent in the protected and conserved arena. As said by Rob, “the on-the-ground work leads to success at a large scale”.

Parting Words from Rob

I feel like sometimes people are hesitant to do this stuff because they’re nervous that they don’t know how to do it, but I feel like it all comes from that mindset of thinking you have to know what you are doing, to be in control, or to have all the answers; go in with an open heart and open mind and open hands, and listen – truly walk a path together. People sometimes think – we can’t do this, or what if we do this, and we don’t often consider: what if we don’t? What could be lost?

Moose at Cape Breton Highlands National Park Reserve, Sourced from Author’s [Rob] personal collection.

Further Resources

Ermine, W. (2007). The Ethical Space of Engagement. Indigenous Law Journal 6(1): pp. 193 – 203. Link Here.

Gray, B. (2016). Building Relationships and Advancing Reconciliation through Meaningful Consultation. Report to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Link Here.

Kelloway, B. (2018). What you need to know about the Cape Breton moose harvest. The Signal. Link Here.

Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources Moose Management Resource Page.

Stoney Cultural Monitoring of Bison Reintroduction in Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche (Banff)

Guest Speaker: William Snow, Manager of Consultation, Stoney Tribal Administration

With funding from the Canadian Mountain Network and support from Parks Canada, the Stoney Tribal Administration Consultation Team led a cultural monitoring study—using ceremony, elder Interviews, fieldwork, elder reconnection, report writing, and outreach to describe the cultural impacts of the bison reintroduction and further an understanding of what it means for bison to again roam freely in Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche. Join us for a conversation about how Indigenous knowledge can enhance parks and protected areas and the management of species at risk and entire ecosystems.

Read the report: Enhancing the Reintroduction of Plains Bison in Banff National Park Through Cultural Monitoring and Traditional Knowledge

Webinar Recording:

Conférencier invité : William Snow, Directeur de la consultation, Administration tribale Stoney

Grâce à un financement du Réseau des montagnes canadiennes et le soutien de Parcs Canada, l’équipe de consultation de l’administration tribale de Stoney a mené une étude de surveillance culturelle – utilisant des cérémonies, des entretiens avec des aînés, du travail sur le terrain, la reconnexion des aînés, la rédaction de rapports et la sensibilisation pour décrire les impacts culturels de la réintroduction du bison et approfondir la compréhension de ce que signifie le fait que le bison erre à nouveau librement dans Mînî Rhpa Mâkoche. Rejoignez-nous pour apprendre comment les connaissances indigènes peuvent améliorer les parcs et les zones protégées et la gestion des espèces en danger et des écosystèmes entiers.

Lisez le rapport (en anglais – français en cours) : Améliorer la réintroduction du bison des plaines dans le parc national de Banff grâce à la surveillance culturelle et au savoir traditionnel.

Enregistrement du webinaire :

The Indigenous Protected & Conserved Areas (IPCA) Knowledge Basket

Recording

Eli Enns, President of IISAAK OLAM Foundation & Member of Leadership Circle, Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership

Soudeh Jamshidian, PhD
IPCA Knowledge Basket Coordinator IISAAK OLAM Foundation

A legacy initiative of the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership, the IPCA Knowledge Basket (ipcaknowledgebasket.ca) is a digital platform for reciprocal knowledge-sharing and collaborative learning in the spirit of ‘We Rise Together’. It was designed through a Two-Eyed Seeing approach to weave a diversity of resources and knowledge together in one place, while elevating Indigenous knowledge systems and supporting Indigenous-led conservation. Join us for a conversation with the IISAAK OLAM Foundation about how this exceptional resource came into being and how it might support the work of all parks and protected areas practitioners and researchers.

Enregistrement

Eli Enns, Président de la Fondation IISAAK OLAM et membre du cercle de leadership du partenariat «Conservation through Reconciliation»

Soudeh Jamshidian, PhD
Coordinatrice du Knowledge Basket APCA

Initiative héritée du Partenariat pour la conservation par la réconciliation, le « Knowledge Basket » de l’APCA (ipcaknowledgebasket.ca) est une plateforme digitale pour le partage réciproque des connaissances et l’apprentissage collaboratif dans l’esprit de ” Nous nous levons ensemble “. Il a été conçu selon une approche à deux yeux afin de réunir une diversité de ressources et de connaissances en un seul endroit, tout en élevant les systèmes de connaissances autochtones et en soutenant la conservation dirigée par les autochtones. Rejoignez- nous pour une conversation avec la Fondation IISAAK OLAM sur la façon dont cette ressource exceptionnelle a vu le jour et comment elle pourrait soutenir le travail de tous les praticiens et chercheurs des parcs et des aires protégées.

Connecting with Local Water and Inuit Harvesting Rights

by Nathaniel Rose

This blog post was created in collaboration with Sandi Vincent, practitioner with Parks Canada.

Nathaniel Rose 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.

During the winter months around Igloolik, Nunavut, the sun sets in November and doesn’t rise again until the end of January. Slowly, the daylight grows and the world around us warms up. Everyone loves spring in the Arctic after a cold and dark winter. As a teenager in Igloolik I especially loved to go camping for spring break-up, when the sea ice breaks up and the ocean opens for the summer. Towards the end of May – beginning of June, my family and I traveled across the ice in qamutiik pulled by snowmobile to Igloolik point. We spent the month of June on the land, waiting at seal holes, fishing in cracks in the ice and enjoying the sun and spring weather. When the ice had broken up at the beginning of July, we traveled back to town by ATV or boat.

I had spent many hours with my cousins silently waiting at agluit, seal breathing holes, being in and a part of my environment. When a seal came to my hole, my uncle came to where I was and showed me how to respectfully harvest it. This time spent camping is one of my favourite memories, and learning traditional knowledge camping with my extended family has helped shape me as an Inuk. “Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) encompasses the entire realm of Inuit experience in the world and the values, principles, beliefs, and skills which have evolved as a result of that experience. It is the experience and resulting knowledge/wisdom that prepares us for success in the future and establishes the possible survival of Inuit.”(3). I spent that spring break-up learning Inuktitut terms, observing the weather, gaining a deeper understanding of my environment, and strengthening my cultural identity. I’m grateful for spending so much time on the land and treasure the time I spent with my family.

Inuit exercising rights under the Nunavut Agreement have unrestricted access to all Parks Canada protected places in Nunavut. Inuit are not considered “visitors” when in Parks Canada administered places in Nunavut, and can hunt, trap, fish, harvest berries and other materials, collect carving stones and establish outpost camps in Parks Canada protected places. 

After I shared this story with Nathaniel, our conversations shifted to the recent water crisis in Iqaluit NU. In October 2021 Iqaluit’s drinking water was contaminated with fuel and a do not consume order was issued. For nearly two months the city of approx. 8000 people relied on bottled water or trucked river water. This event put a clear focus on access to drinking water and the quality of water on a broader scale.

I (Nathaniel) wanted to look into bodies of water in my local area, and whether or not they were drinkable, so I turned my attention to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is home to many provincial Parks and one National Park (Georgian Bay Islands National Park – visited many times by the Group of Seven who painted its pristine landscapes). I have spent my summers here since a child, at a family log cabin right on the south shores of Georgian Bay. I remember we used to have a hose running from the lake, to our lawn, to water the lawn and the garden. But I don’t think I ever drank from the lake directly. I definitely swam in it, and still swim in it during the summer to this day.

I was very interested to learn when Georgian Bay water became undrinkable for residents and when the shift occurred from being able to drink it directly, to having to have it filtered. My guess is this happened this century (in the 1900s). With the pollution from many motorboats (used mostly for leisure boating and fishing) and nutrients like phosphorus from agricultural runoff, the water quality has diminished and is now filtered (where I am) by the local town, Thornbury. The water comes from Georgian Bay but must be treated to be fit to drink.

According to Pat Chow-Fraser, Professor at McMaster University, permanent and seasonal residents on Georgian Bay used to drink water directly from the lake (1). However over time, it got more polluted and required treatment. In isolated bays, where the water exchange is low, the lake became infested with Blue-Green Algae, caused by agricultural runoff from local watersheds.

Today, the water quality (though it still needs to be treated) is deemed relatively good in Georgian Bay. However, in more urbanized areas like Severn Sound, in the southeast corner of the bay, increased nutrient levels (eutrophication) have led to excessive plankton blooms, aquatic plant life and reduced dissolved oxygen levels (1). Eutrophication, caused by agricultural runoff in local watersheds, can prove toxic to fish, birds, humans and other wildlife.

 The cold water parts of Georgian Bay are home to fish such as Lake Trout and White Fish, while the warmer waters are home to Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Walleye, Yellow Perch and others (1). It is important that we protect these fish, and the local bird populations that rely on them for sustenance. This will help support a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem.

It is also important to human swimmers, and I argue, everyone who drinks from the lake. Think about it: wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all drink directly from our fresh-water lakes? If fish could swim free of toxins, and we could swim with no worry about toxins as well? Have you ever drunk directly from a lake or river? My guess is this is a rare experience today in urbanized areas of Canada.

The Beaver River flows into Georgian Bay and is a major spawning spot for Salmon. Every year you can watch the salmon swim upstream to where they lay their eggs

Motor Boats

Apart from agricultural runoff,  motorboats are one of the major polluters of Georgian Bay. From fishing to leisure boating, motorboats have existed on the bay since the early twentieth century (4). Though not as busy as the Muskoka region (a major cottage getaway location in Ontario), there are still a significant amount of motor boats on the Bay today. According to an article published by Georgian Bay Forever, a local conservation group, a 20 HP 2-stroke outboard engine that operates for 1 hour makes 11, 000 m3 of water undrinkable (2). That’s a lot of water that is now unfit to drink, from one motor boat engine. A 5 HP 4-stroke outboard engine (which is the latest technology) still produces 38 times the amount of hydrogen and nitrogen oxide emissions than a small gas-powered car does (2). Therefore, even if there aren’t a lot of motorboats on your lake or river, they can still have a large impact.

Solutions

Electric powered boats are a viable solution as they are emission free. They use an electric battery instead of an Internal Combustion Engine. Kerry and AJ Mueller, owners of an electric fishing boat and pontoon, said they can fully charge their battery at their house in as little as 7 hours (2). They also have a solar charging option so you can charge your boat as you go boating (2). However, there are financial barriers involved as electric motors are more expensive. There is also limited availability and less choice to date. However, if there were government incentives, like there are for electric cars, this option could become more affordable.

Using an electric motor costs approximately 1/5 the price of gas, depending upon your region (2). They don’t release emissions that contribute to water or air pollution.  In the Georgian Bay area, 34% of total community air emissions are from waterborne transportation. That’s a large chunk of emissions that could be reduced if people switched to electric boats.

PARKS

How does this relate to Parks? Parks have a unique position as many are situated on, or have water running through, their park or protected area. My hope is that this will inspire you to look into the history of the body of water in your area or park, and it’s history of pollution. Is the water in your park drinkable? What are the major polluters to the water in your park? Are there any solutions out there, (eg. encouraging electric boats or enforcing a ban on pesticides), that you can implement?

Call to Action
We invite you to connect with your local water system, and encourage you to learn about indigenous groups and harvesting rights in your area. Please share what resonates with you.

References

1) Chow-Fraser, Pat. “Water Quality: A Middle Great Lakes Dilemma.” Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation, https://www.georgianbaygreatlakesfoundation.com/water-quality/. Accessed 16 March 2022

2) Sargaent, Heather. “Electric Powered Boats Reduce Pollution Emissions, But They Also Make Boating More Enjoyable”.  GBF Winter 2022 Newsletter, Georgian Bay Forever, 2022. https://georgianbayforever.org/flipbook/winter2022/6/. Accessed 16 March 2022.

3) Tagalik, Shirley.  “Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: The role of Indigenous knowledge in supporting wellness in Inuit Communities in Nunavut”, National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2022. https://inuuqatigiit.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Inuit-IQ-EN-web.pdf. Accessed 28 March 2022.

4) Hatherly, Gerry. “Boating History: Gidley Boats”. Canadian Yachting: Canada’s Boating Source, Digital Magazine, April 11, 2019. https://www.canadianyachting.ca/home/digital-archives/96-boat-reviews/boatyards/5007-boating-history-gidley-boats. Accessed 29 March 2022.

Photos of Georgian Bay and the Beaver River ©Nathaniel Rose

All other photos ©Sandi Vincent

The Future of the Campfire

by Nathaniel Rose

Nathaniel Rose 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.

 

“I went camping with my family when I was growing up. And I still love campfire marshmallows. For me, it’s very important. They have to be burnt. Like, I want the flaming ball that I get to blow out. And then I eat it. A lot of people like it just to be lightly toasted and brown on the outside. And soft. Nope, it’s got to be charred. And so that’s how I eat a marshmallow.”

  – Dani Money

 

If you have a conversation about campfires, roasting marshmallows is bound to come up. As was the case with Dani Money, the Planning Section Head at BC Parks, when I sat down with her to discuss the future of the campfire. I’m sure after that introduction, you’re dying to know how I, Nathaniel Rose, Knowledge Gatherer for Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation eat a marshmallow, but I’m not going to tell you.

Okay I will. I actually prefer to roast them slowly, down near the embers, so that they cook evenly through. So you can imagine my disappointment with Dani, when I heard she likes to burn hers to a crisp. Okay, kidding again. But I think this brings to light one of the beautiful things about a campfire – it allows for people to have experiences that they wouldn’t have anywhere else. And a lot of these experiences are social and provide a feeling of happiness or contentment.

That’s why the future of the campfire is such an important issue. So I was thrilled to get to talk about this Dani Money about it. After conducting some research, here’s a bit of what we came up with:

Fires have been used by the human population for millennia. Not only did the discovery of fire allow us to cook our food increasing brain function, but fires gave us a space to socialize and build community. When fires first became popular with our (human) species, they added four hours to our working day (1). Cooking and eating didn’t take up the whole extra four hours so it opened up a time slot that could only be used for conversation and storytelling (1). There wasn’t enough light to forage for food and make tools but there was enough light to interact socially (1). Having fires therefore was essential to community building.

Today, campfires are still prevalent, especially in the park setting. Campfires in parks have been used to keep warm, cook and socialize for generations. I bet a park leader today would not be able to argue with the fact that campfires are a key component of the camping experience.

However, as park leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure the health of visitors. Do the benefits of campfires outweigh the negative aspects? Let’s take a look:

 

Negative Impacts

Campfires have many health impacts and are also a cause of air pollution. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency in the United States), fine particles from woodsmoke can trigger asthma attacks, make asthma symptoms worse, make you more susceptible to lung infections including that from Co-vid 19, and trigger heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart conditions, especially in those already prone to these conditions (6).

Campfires can also cause noise disturbances as people stay up late into the night socializing around the fire.

It is also possible that campfire wood that visitors bring in could hold invasive species within the wood. This could introduce the species into the park area, that could have a potentially damaging effect on the local tree population or ecosystem. One example of invasive species that was brought into parts of BC, and widespread in Eastern Canada is the Gypsy moth (3). This insect eats the leaves of trees to an alarming effect, making it hard for the trees to survive.

Female Gypsy Moth

Another invasive species that has been recently affecting large parts of Southern Ontario is the Emerald Ash Borer. It is a wood-boring beetle, that “bores” through Ash tree trunks, eating through and inhabiting the wood. It is native to China and the Russian Far East and arrived in Canada in the 1990s, most likely on wood packaging material (4). According to the Government of Canada, millions of trees have been killed due to this Beetle’s infestation. (4)

Author’s Note: 

“The Emerald Ash Borer affected the area around my cottage on Southern Georgian Bay. We had to take more than eleven ash trees down on my property as the insect had chewed its way through their trunks. You can actually see the little pathways in the wood where the Ash Borer drilled its way through, eating the wood. A good tip would be to check your firewood for signs of insect infestation before use”

After a quick summary of these negative impacts, one might want to go running as far away from a campfire as possible. But there are also many positive impacts to campfires.

 

Positive Uses

Campfires have many social and cultural uses that the average person may not have thought of. Shawn Davis, a professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennslvania notes that because campfires are built in a circular fashion, people face one another, which provides more opportunity for connection than say watching the television would, where people sit in a linear fashion (2). Jennifer Willford, associate professor of psychology notes that being around a fire creates “comfortable emotions” of happiness, tranquility, and connection. It can elicit positive emotions that allow us to be more open and also allow us to be more present without the daily distractions of cellphones (2). Campfires also have a therapeutic effect: the sound of fire crackling can have a calming affect on humans and act as a de-stressor (2), just as the trickling of water in streams or the sound of the breeze through leaves of a tree would do the same.

Campfires are also used in Indigenous communities for healing ceremonies and learning opportunities. The Anishnabeg, native to Turtle Island, concentrated around the Great Lakes, use fires for healing ceremonies and as a gathering place for workshops. Fires hold a space to meet as a community and learn traditional knowledge (5). For example, one workshop offered by Anishnabeg Outreach, a not-for-profit organization with locations in different parts of Ontario, is a “spirit building workshop” that focuses on creating resilience for you and your family as well as “growing the ability to deal with change, stresses and uncertainties in life” (5). The workshop begins with circle questions and is intended to “light the fire within you” (5). The traditional knowledge learned around the fire includes learning a “deep sense of self and belonging and ways to integrate Indigenous culture into your daily life” (5).

If one were to ban or take away campfire use, it could be a potential barrier to the Anishanabeg as they wouldn’t be able to have healing and spiritual experiences around the fire. Fires are also used as a gathering place for Anishnaabe families and a ban on fires would take that opportunity away.

 

Author’s Note: 

“One memory I have around the campfire, was from a Grade 9 trip to Camp Walden (a camp in Southern Ontario) that I took with my arts high school. While I was there, I connected with several dance majors, and I remember one night we sang songs by the fire. I remember it as such a beautiful experience of bonding, and I was friends with these people for the rest of my high school career. If it wasn’t for that campfire, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sing with each other”

Solutions

Given that there are so many benefits to campfires maybe it is worthwhile to look at potential solutions to the negative impacts of fires. 

When I went camping as a child there were regulations in place to deal with campfire use in parks – regulating the time they could be used and placing a ban on campfires after a certain time at night. This dealt with noise pollution and air quality at night. These regulations still exist and offer a partial solution to visitor complaints.

In response to the invasive species problem, one solution could be to only allow firewood to be bought from the local area or park itself, while ensuring that the wood is sourced locally from healthy trees. However, this may create an economic barrier to some, who planned on taking wood from crown land, rather than purchasing it.

Park Operators can also offer an alternative to burning wood. Propane Rings available at a rental price from the park could be a viable alternative. They consist of a metal bowl, lava rocks, and a connection for a propane tank that acts as the fuel for the fire. They provide both a gathering place and a place to cook food. Group campfires could be an option if they are housed in a specific part of the park so that noise pollution and campfire smoke would be isolated to that area. This could help meet the needs of neighbours and campers that worry about noise and pollution. However, it would be important to take into account the level of comfort zone that certain people would have with sharing the fire and cooking with others.

Park Leaders could also provide education on campfires – looking at ensuring people are respectful to other campers, looking at the pros and cons of campfires and keeping them mindful of the air pollution caused by fires that can lead to climate and health impacts.

After a quick look, it looks like campfires have many positive impacts and uses, from building communities, providing a space for connection, de-stressing and relaxing, and providing a space for Indigenous workshops and healing ceremonies. Whether or not these benefits outweigh the negative impacts to human health and the environment seems more like something to be decided by each individual that visits an overnight camping site. Maybe, as park leaders, we can only try to mitigate the negative impacts by providing solutions that ensure that visitors can enjoy campfires in parks with a clearer conscience and a healthier body.

Call to Action

What do you think? Do the positive outcomes of campfires outweigh the negative outcomes? How have campfires been treated in your park? Do you have an experience with campfires in parks? Please leave a comment below.

Sources

1) Dunbar, Robin I. M. “How Conversations around Campfires Came to Be.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 30 Sept. 2014, https://www.pnas.org/content/111/39/14013.full. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021

2) Zackal, Justin. “SRU Professors Spark Conversation about Campfire Day.” Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock University, 2 Aug. 2019, http://www.sru.edu/news/080219b. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021

3) “Buy local, Burn Local: Play your Part.” Invasive Species Council of BC, Invasive Species Council of BC, https://bcinvasives.ca/play-your-part/buy-local-burn-local/#:~:text=Two%20examples%20of%20introduced%20insects,established%20and%20damage%20local%20trees Accessed 3 Feb. 2022

4) “Emerald Ash Borer.” Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, 13 July 2021, https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests/wildland-fires-insects-disturbances/top-forest-insects-and-diseases-canada/emerald-ash-borer/13377. Accessed 3 Feb. 2022

5) “Wellness and Healing.” Anishnabeg Outreach, 2021, https://aocan.org/wellness-and-healing/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021

6) “Wood Smoke and Your Health.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/wood-smoke-and-your-health#health Accessed 2 Mar. 2022

Photos

Gypsy Moth Photo sourced from “Creative Commons

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.

Reconciliation – A Review of ‘Ha Ling Peak’

Preview image of Ha Ling Peak documentary by Brian Zimmerman

Growing up in Saskatchewan, I always had a strong appreciation for the Rockies. Every summer since I can remember, my family would make our yearly pilgrimage to the Banff area where my brothers and I would make a game of trying to accurately name every mountain that we could see outside of our car window. Approaching our stay in Canmore was always the best part and we’d frequently try to petition reasons to live there permanently to our parents, with little success.

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Seminar Series: UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability: Canadian Law and Indigenous Self-Determination

The IRES Seminar Series showcases the research of our graduate students, faculty and guests. We also host monthly professional development seminars. Our seminars are open to everyone.

Feb 11, 2021: Student Seminar with Joanne Nelson and Kyoko Adachi
Feb 25, 2021: Faculty Seminar with Andrew Baron
March 4, 2021: Professional Development Seminar with Helina Jolly, Simon Donner, and Mark Cembrowski
March 11, 2021: Faculty Seminar with Erika Zavaleta
March 18, 2021: Student Seminar with Madison Stevens and Rocío López de la Lama
March 25, 2021: IRES Faculty Seminar with Gordon Christie
April 8, 2021: IRES Faculty Seminar with Erle Ellis
April 15, 2021: IRES Student Symposium