Marian Watershed Stewardship Program: supporting monitoring in the Tłı̨chǫ

Laurier’s James Telford (MSc candidate) and Ana Sniderhan (GWF Research Associate) travelled to Hislop Lake (appx. 170 km northwest of Yellowknife) for the yearly on-the-land sampling trip of the Marian Watershed Stewardship Program (MWSP). The MWSP is a ho community-led aquatic monitoring program, with the goal of integrating western science knowledge systems and sampling processes into the strong traditional knowledge of the Tłı̨chǫ people. In particular, the Tłı̨chǫ community is concerned about future mining development within the Marian watershed and potential for pollution, as well as the more general concerns about the implications of climate change in the North. The Tłı̨chǫ community identified the need of a western science-based approach to enhance their monitoring program, which is how Laurier got involved.

On this year’s MWSP trip to Hislop Lake, there were 14 participants. In addition to Telford and Sniderhan from Laurier, nine community members including elders, Tłı̨chǫ environmental monitors, and guides, as well as a fish biologist, a representative from the Wek’èezhìı Land and Water Board, and a representative from the Tłı̨chǫ government. Participants travelled from Yellowknife to Hislop Lake by float plane, setting up a camp on an island location well-known and frequented by the community. Over the course of five days, the participants quickly became at home on the island, sharing experiences of time on the land and enjoying them warm campfires, clear starry skies, and dancing auroras reflecting on the still lake.

Telford began working with the community on monitoring initiatives starting in 2015 as part of his MSc research, and this was his third annual sampling trip with the MWSP. With two years of prior water and sediment sampling, Telfords’ work established long-term baselines of hydroecological conditions and lake sediment metal concentrations to better inform continued monitoring through contemporary sampling. On this trip, Telford worked with the Tłı̨chǫ environmental monitors to collect sediment and water samples in Hislop Lake and the Marian River. Telford also collected two sediment cores which will be used by the MWSP to establish local baselines for the Hislop catchment.

This was Sniderhan’s first trip with the MWSP. The community had previously identified concerns about changes of the terrestrial environment, particularly in regard to the increased intensity and severity of forest fires in the region as well as the effects of permafrost thaw on the landscape. As Sniderhan’s research background is in many aspects of forest and plant ecology in the Northwest Territories, she came on the trip to develop ideas for how to help address the community’s concerns about the terrestrial environment. On this trip, she collected tree core samples from four species of trees (quite a lot by boreal standards), and will be analyzing these to identify patterns in growth over time. Ana also used her time on this trip to learn more about the traditions and history of the Tłı̨chǫ people.

Telford and Sniderhan felt that this was an important trip to maintain and continue the strong partnership between the Tłı̨chǫ and researchers from Laurier. On this trip, they were able to give demonstrations to the community members about our approaches to monitoring change including sample collection and how we obtain information from these samples. This monitoring initiative organized by the Tłı̨chǫ government provides the opportunity for many community members to return to the lands which are culturally significant, while giving us as scientists an incredible amount of insight onto the history of the lands and waters that they study. Building these relationships can lead to greater potential for community-directed research projects, and in turn, strengthen the relationship between Tłı̨chǫ knowledge and western science.

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