UPDATE: AEMERA features new Aboriginal program

UPDATE: September 1 – The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) has included this story in its September 2015 newsletter.

Training participants learning how to apply GPS technology and map
reading skills to environmental monitoring

A new Aboriginal-focused training program is helping improve Alberta’s environmental monitoring network while enhancing skills and employment opportunities for the province’s indigenous peoples.

Running now until December 2015, the Environmental Monitoring Training Program for First Nations and Métis communities in Northeastern Alberta is focused on safety, surface water quality monitoring and wildlife monitoring.  The program is a partnership between Alberta Innovates – Technology futures (AITF), Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA), Aboriginal communities and companies, government and industry.

Two participants clearly recognize the benefits of the training and the community-building components of the program.

Donna Badger of Kehewin Cree Nation already has an environmental background working as an external auditor on behalf of Enform, a safety association for the oil and gas industry. She says the skills and training she is receiving from the Environmental Monitoring Training Program will enable to her to better deliver services and advocacy on behalf of Alberta’s Aboriginal communities.

“Aboriginal perspectives and background on the environment are extremely important,” says Donna. “The program is helping me with my work and how Aboriginals can help government and industry to develop land-monitoring protocols that are considerate of things like sacred spaces. By meeting other program participants, it’s also helping me establish a network with other Aboriginal people working in the environment sector.”

One such participant is David Waniandy of the McMurray Métis, who has worked in the oil and gas industry for about 40 years. Currently, David works as a liaison between Fort McMurrary’s oil sands operators and Métis trappers running trap lines along the Athabasca River.

“Fort McMurray was a hub for the fur trade long before it became famous for the oil sands,” he says. “Today, fur trading is still hugely important tradition for the Métis people in the region. The program is helping me better understand what industry is doing in the area. In turn, I can also be a stronger voice for local trappers as they negotiate with industry and government.”

Aboriginal Environmental Services Network

The program is among the first initiatives of a new network that will provide more employment opportunities for Alberta’s Aboriginal communities focused on environmental monitoring, reclamation and forestry.

The Aboriginal Environmental Services Network (AESN) will form a hub for management, communication, resource sharing and promotion of Aboriginal participation in the delivery of environmental services in Alberta. It will assist in the placement of interns in positions with Aboriginal environmental services companies, coordinate appropriate practical training for field technicians, and assist in business development and advisory services for Aboriginal communities trying to establish environmental services companies.

The network partnership is being established by AITF, AEMERA, Aboriginal communities and companies, government and industry.

“The establishment of the network is really building on AITF’s successful history of working with and programming for Alberta’s Aboriginal communities,” says AITF program lead Shauna-Lee Chai.

One such program was AITF’s Aboriginal Internship for Land Stewardship, which ran from 2005-2010. The community-based, practice-oriented training program empowered interns with scientific and technical knowledge for use as land stewards. Today, nine young leaders are now recognized as Land Stewards and Consultation Managers in their communities. 

“Based on these experiences, we recognized the opportunity to provide ongoing supports that will help these communities become more effectively involved in environmental monitoring and engagement.”

For example, while resource companies and governments would like to support the local economy by using local companies for environmental services, the shortage of qualified people is a significant barrier to full scale business growth for many Aboriginal environmental services companies.

Now, through and with the assistance of the network, Aboriginal companies will be better positioned to develop and market their business, employ trained personnel and offer services to government and local industries like oil and gas, mining, power and forestry.

The first phase of establishing the AESN focused on developing a business case based on market research, stakeholder interviews, and hosting a workshop to explore the feasibility of the network and its potential activities. Phase two (2015-2017) is committed to the development of the Environmental Monitoring Training pilot program.

Bill Donahue, AEMERA Vice President and Chief Monitoring Officer, explains why this pilot project is so important: “As AEMERA continues to engage Aboriginal groups and communities, and endeavours to braid Traditional Environmental Knowledge into regional environmental monitoring, training has been flagged as a major capacity gap at the local level. We have heard from several groups and communities that increased access to training is critical to local participation in environmental monitoring. The Aboriginal training pilot will provide Aboriginal community members with enhanced technical skills that will allow them to actively participate in local monitoring. We are very excited to work with our first cohort of trainees from the Lower Athabasca region.”

For more information on the program and network, click here.