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VIU expands Indigenous environmental stewardship program on the Island

Partnership with First Nations on northern Vancouver Island addresses need for ‘guardians’

VIU will take advantage of new provincial funding to expand Indigenous ‘guardians’ environmental stewardship training on Vancouver Island.

New Indigenous guardians will begin training in Campbell River this month after an agreement was signed between Nanwakolas council and VIU that will be supported by provincial funding through the ministry of post-secondary education and future skills.

The stewardship technician training program covers emergency first response and protecting fragile B.C. ecosystems from harmful human activity and the increasingly serious effects of climate change, according to a press release.

Nanwakolas council president Dallas Smith said in the release that member nations in that area are taking on increased responsibilities for environmental governance and management.

“That means we need many more guardians actively engaged in monitoring forestry harvesting, hunting, protection of cultural sites, gathering data on key species, rehabilitation of damaged habitat, assessing resource development proposals, and ensuring compliance with land use plans and regulations,” he said. “We need guardian capacity to respond to crises like the sinking of barges and tugs carrying oil and other toxic pollutants.”

Nanwakolas Council is comprised of six member First Nations whose traditional territories are located in the northern Vancouver Island and adjacent south central coast areas of British Columbia (Mamalilikulla, Tlowitsis, Da’naxda’xw Awaetlala, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and K’ómoks).

VIU president Deborah Saucier said in the release that the university’s partnerships with Indigenous communities that support learners, co-create innovative programming, and deepen mutual understanding are core to VIU’s identity.

“The signing of this agreement speaks to our commitment to reconciliation and the value of working together to advance culturally appropriate education and relational land-based learning,” she said.

The release added that the program help provide economic opportunities, “deeply meaningful employment” for First Nations people and improvements to the “environmental well-being” on the northern Island and central coast. The program is intended to enhance Indigenous governance, empowering First Nations to make decisions based on “high-quality data” gathered by their guardians in the territories

“The program allows students to build our own pathways, and our own very personal and deep definition of what being a guardian means to us,” said Angela Davidson, who graduated from the stewardship technician program five years ago.

The release lauded the Indigenous-led, culturally safe delivery of the program, and said it creates opportunities for students to further their education to become qualified scientific and technical professionals in forestry, biology, archaeology, environmental management, and other similar fields.

Selina Robinson, minister of post-secondary education, said in the release that investing in Indigenous-led skills training plays a “critical role” in reconciliation.

READ ALSO: Indigenous conservation Canada’s way of the future environmentalism

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Black Press Media Staff

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