Getting their hands dirty: Environmental conference talks resources, sustainability and climate change

Year 1 No. 28 — Friday, October 21, 2016

Lac Seul’s Germaine Catchpole enjoyed planting garlic during the Northern Ontario First Nation Environment Conference’s Roots to Harvest field trip to the Fort William community garden.

“(It was) amazing because I’ve never actually planted anything before,” says Catchpole, community outreach and resource development coordinator at Water First, a registered Canadian charity located in Creemore, Ontario that addresses water challenges in First Nation communities through education, training and meaningful collaboration. “Just getting your hands dirty, getting your hands in the earth and seeing where the food comes from was amazing.”

Catchpole says it was interesting to learn that garlic is planted in the fall and not in the spring like most garden plants.

“That is another lesson for me on how our food is grown,” Catchpole says.

Catchpole was also impressed with the drone demonstration, which was presented by Four Rivers staff Charlene Wagenaar and Jennifer Duncan during their GIS Data Collection Techniques presentation. Wagenaar and Duncan showed how the drone can be programmed through the use of an app to follow a grid pattern and gather information about a specific plot of land.

“It’s a fantastic way of learning about the land,” Catchpole says. “There’s a purpose to it. It’s not just a cool toy — it’s something that can be really useful to use in our communities.”

Catchpole says the information she learned about the effects of climate change during the conference “hit home” for her.

“What is happening to our land is really frightening,” Catchpole says, noting she learned how climate change is impacting winter roads, hunting and fishing. “They are issues that we have to deal with in our day-to-day lives, especially those in our communities. It’s really nice to see at this event that they are working to address climate change and talk about what it actually is and sharing ideas as to what can we do for our communities.”

The conference, held Oct. 4-6 at the Best Western Plus NorWester Hotel and Conference Centre near Thunder Bay, was opened by Water Walker Josephine Mandamin with a water ceremony.

“The idea is to get everybody together in one room for networking, capacity building, the opportunity to share successes and challenges with each other and learn what’s new and what’s happening in the industry of environment and land planning,” says Natalie Popovic, resource development advisor with Windigo First Nations Council. “We had the Drum Crushing Demonstration, I ran a GPS Demo and challenge yesterday out on the grounds, there’s been some tours of the scrap metal recycling facility, we got people out to tour and visit a greenhouse on location in Thunder Bay.”

The conference featured about 30 presentations and training sessions, including Fuel Handling: Spill Response, The Far North Land Use Planning Initiative: Knowledge in Action and Community Energy Planning.

“We have developed some tools, they’re mostly in draft, and we are looking for feedback on them,” says Franz Seibel, research director at the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Research Institute and co-presenter of the Community Energy Planning presentation. “They include a Grade 7 and 8 online curriculum giving you the basics on electricity generation. It also goes through how to read a meter, your electricity bill, and how the regulated (electricity) system works with transmission and distribution and what you can do in your remote First Nation for making a difference with renewables and energy planning. Another tool we shared was a guidebook on how to go through your energy plans, and that is available to everyone on our website:”

Conference details are available online at: