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

Seminar Series: UBC Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability: Visualizing Urban Indigenous Water Knowledge

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