The Canadian Mountain Network hosted its Annual Knowledge Sharing Summit, in Parksville, Vancouver Island, BC, from September 25th-28th. Parksville rests on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the Snuneymuxw, Qualicum, and Snaw-Naw-As Nations. The theme of the Summit, Moving Mountains through Braiding Knowledges, reflects CMN’s dedication to integrating Indigenous and Western knowledges in environmental research and practice in and beyond mountain ecosystems. The Knowledge Sharing Summit brought together Indigenous organizations and communities, university researchers, government, business, industry and not-for-profit partners and collaborators to share learnings and needs with a focus on Indigenous-led and co-led research.
This is CMN's third Knowledge Sharing Summit after four years of excellence in research centered on environmental protection, conservation and restoration through a holistic approach based on Indigenous and Western ways of knowing. With deep reverence for the land, our attendees and speakers shared their stories of reconnection with their culture and ways of knowing, while serving their community. They discussed their collaborative multi-partner cultural gatherings, knowledge innovation, cultural resurgence, place-based capacity support, and knowledge translation work that is contributing to the decolonization of research in Canada and impacting policy and decision-making.
Training Sessions: Pathways Towards Braiding Knowledges
The pre-Summit day was dedicated to training sessions entitled, Pathways Towards Braiding Knowledges. These sessions took place in a dynamic “World Café” format and focused on knowledge co-production, the creation of ethical spaces, and braiding Indigenous and Western knowledges in collaborative research initiatives. Panelists included notable Indigenous Elders and researchers, Indigenous organization representatives, as well as CMN committee members.
Summit Day 1
The official Summit Sessions began the next day with a spiritual opening by Elder Jim Bob and Lawrence Mitchell and family (in photo on left), from the Snaw-Naw-As Nation which rests on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples (also known as the Nanoose Nation). He reminded attendees of the sacredness of the land and the importance of caring for one another. This set the tone for a day filled with valuable discussions and projects that highlight the power of cooperation, understanding, and reconciliation. Board Chair Dr. Joe Dragon (in photo below) officially welcomed attendees and reinforced the focus on braiding knowledges.
CMN's Journey from Inception to Impact
This session was moderated by CMN Executive Director Dr. Monique Dubé and featured a panel discussion on CMN's history and impacts. Panelists showcased the journey of how the idea of CMN took hold in research and government meetings, emphasizing the need to serve mountain and Northern communities. The panelists, with a long history of service to CMN, shared their personal insights into the network's mission and impact. A new video (below) detailing the work, legacy and mission of CMN was also launched during this session.
The Bison Cultural Study
Bill Snow, Acting Director of Consultation for Stoney Tribal Administration, discussed the spiritual and cultural significance of bison to the Stoney Nakoda people, emphasizing its role in the plains ecosystem and Indigenous communities. The Bison Cultural Study reported substantial success in increasing bison populations within a reintroduction zone and proposed a co-management model. The presentation stressed the importance of sharing traditional knowledge to complement Western science, recognizing the historical depth of Indigenous perspectives in understanding the landscape. A documentary video about the project was also featured during the presentation.
Revitalizing Tlingit Language and Traditional Laws
The session featured three Tlingit women leaders on the project steering committee and Dr. Aimée Schmidt, Executive Director of the T'akhu Â Tlèn Conservancy. They discussed how they are contributing to revitalizing the Tlingit language, which is closely tied to traditional laws and customs, with a specific emphasis on maintaining their unique way of life in Atlin, BC. The project, known as "Relaw," aims to reconnect with ancestral land relationships, making Tlingit river people experts in their laws for the sustainability of land and waters. They work to reverse the effects of colonization, acknowledging capacity constraints in the community, and actively compile quotes and stories to center their people in the project.
Collaborative Research in the Porcupine Caribou Knowledge Hub
The Porcupine Caribou Knowledge Hub, a collaborative initiative comprising Indigenous groups, universities, and other organizations, addresses climate change's impact on rapidly changing ecosystems and local livelihoods. Research within the Hub focuses on Indigenous knowledge, vegetation, and wildlife, guided by advisory groups, with an emphasis on community engagement and traditional practices. Central to its success is the Indigenous coordinator, Jesse Pascale, who integrates Indigenous knowledge across all research areas.
Making Space for Indigenous Fishing Livelihoods in Great Slave Lake Fisheries
Kristine Wray (in photo on left), a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, discussed her CMN-supported Strategic Research Initiative focused on the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. She explores how the Dene people contribute to fisheries management to better support Indigenous fishing livelihoods, addressing issues such as environmental observations, climate change, and the decline in fish prices. Wray's research is conducted through community-based methods and in collaboration with First Nations, emphasizing the importance of including Indigenous Knowledge and values in commercial fishing practices.
Revitalizing Connection to Yukon Salmon Culture: A Collaborative First Nations Approach
The presentation discussed the collaborative efforts within the Salmon Knowledge Hub to revitalize and reconnect with Yukon salmon culture. The initiative aims to acknowledge the long-term decline of Yukon salmon, foster true collaboration, and integrate traditional knowledge into salmon governance. The focus has shifted towards cultural practices and reconnection with salmon, emphasizing the importance of passing down traditions to future generations.
Bringing Research Home in the Kluane First Nation Traditional Territory
Math'ieya Alatini, former Chief of Kluane First Nation, discussed how the First Nation's autonomy provides them with a strong voice in matters related to reconciliation, particularly in the face of mining development in their territory. The project's goals include compiling climate change research, making it accessible to the community, and establishing research expectations, with an active role for Indigenous youth in bridging intergenerational connections. The presentation highlighted the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge and creating a collaborative approach in research that transcends traditional academic boundaries.
Blackfoot Confederacy Guardianship
Kimmy Houle, Knowledge Lead for the Blackfoot Confederacy Guardianship Hub, discussed the mission of the Blackfoot Confederacy Tribal Council to restore, protect, and enhance the culture, language, and self-identity of the Blackfoot people, emphasizing the deeply rooted connection between Blackfoot language and culture and the landscape. The initiative focuses on addressing climate change, threats to land and water, and declining species to preserve the culture and language of the Blackfoot people.
Nı́o Nę P’ęnę́ - Bridging Western Science and Traditional Knowledge for Caribou Conservation
Manisha Singh (not pictured here in photo), Nıó Nę P'ęnę́ Research Manager at the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board, discussed a collaborative initiative that combines scientific research and Indigenous traditional knowledge to address questions related to northern mountain caribou, with a focus on the Sahtú Indigenous communities. This is both the topic of a CMN Knowledge Hub and project, and involves fecal sampling, genetic analysis, and drone training to monitor critical caribou habitat. Emphasizing the importance of Indigenous-led research on their land, the presentation highlighted the value of combining scientific data with traditional knowledge for caribou conservation.
The Mountain Legacy Project
Dr. Eric Higgs, along with Sarah Jacobs and Bill Snow, presented the ongoing Mountain Legacy Project, which has compiled a collection of 120,000 historical photos of Canadian mountain landscapes and involves capturing repeat photos of the same locations. This CMN-supported Strategic Initiative supports Indigenous reconciliation and resurgence efforts, decolonizes historical images, and collaborates with Indigenous communities to contextualize the photos. By overlaying Indigenous territories and linguistic territories, the project provides unique insights into land cover changes, Indigenous fire stewardship practices, and the management of landscapes over time.
Between sessions, during breaks and at the end of day, attendees were invited to the Summit’s Knowledge Places, which are interactive booths and kiosks showcasing CMN and partner initiatives. Participants ate, mingled, asked questions and discussed scientific posters, audio-visual presentations, took home educational materials, received swag and much more!
Summit Day 2
On the next day of the Summit, Dr. Maurice Manyfingers, Director of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation with Bow Valley College and a new member of CMN’s Board of Directors, emphasized the spiritual aspects of the conference in his opening address. He acknowledged the contributions of Lawrence Mitchell and Elder Jim Bob, setting a tone of gratitude and respect. Notably, he highlighted the commonality of prayer across all religions, underscoring the universal threads that bind humanity. Moreover, the conference coincided with National Truth and Reconciliation Week, recognizing the enduring intergenerational impacts of residential schools on Indigenous peoples in Canada.
The Canadian Mountain Assessment
A highlight of the day was a CMN-supported Strategic Initiative, the Canadian Mountain Assessment (CMA), led by Dr. Graham McDowell (in photo on left). This 400-page assessment, the result of a three-year effort by a diverse group, is set to be published in November and officially launched at the Banff CentreMountain Film and Book Festival. One notable feature of the CMA is the incorporation of Indigenous co-leads, and Indigenous storytelling and oral traditions into each chapter. The panel discussion following the presentation allowed panelists to reflect on the CMA's journey, its approach to inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and lessons learned, and the interconnectedness of mountain systems with other aspects of life in Canada.
Supporting Sustainable Development Goals and Indigenous Rights
CMN supported and collaborated on a highly significant Strategic Initiative with Vancouver Island University’s Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute. Jenica Ng-Cornish and Anna Lawrence discussed their assessment of how CMN projects, Knowledge Hubs, and initiatives have contributed to the advancement of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and national and international federal commitments. CMN is advancing global agendas at a community scale, strengthening collaborations, enhancing well-being, and supporting sustainability.
Read the final reports of this initiative here:
The Assertion of Indigenous Rights and the Rights of Nature in Protected Area Development
Dr. Courtney Mason's presentation (in photo on right) delved into the complexities of park and protected area creation, highlighting both the historical role of parks in facilitating displacement and cultural loss among Indigenous communities and their current role in fostering resiliency, healing, reconciliation, and the reassertion of Indigenous rights. His CMN-funded project focuses on understanding how the creation of parks and protected areas have historically impacted, or are impacting, Indigenous communities in mountain regions of rural Canada and New Zealand.
Restoring Winter Food Security for the Klinse-Za Caribou Herd
Carmen Richter discussed the decade-long project focused on mapping winter food security for the Klinse-Za Caribou Herd in Northeast BC, showcasing the profound importance of caribou to the community, both culturally and ecologically. This work is an important component of the CMN-supported Hub entitled, Rekindling Indigenous-Led Land Stewardship and Cultural Connections in the Rockies. This Hub is helping bring back the Klinse-Za caribou herd from extinction: Between 2013 and 2021, the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations’ efforts increased the population of the Klinse-Za caribou from 38 to 101 individuals. Collaborative efforts involving Elders, community members, and the development of a computer model have led to securing a five-year supply of lichen for the caribou. The project demonstrates the value of knowledge braiding, integrating Elder wisdom, scientific research, and community engagement in caribou recovery and the restoration of Indigenous rights and culture. She also presented a video, Caribou Homelands, highlighting the success of this Indigenous-led caribou recovery program.
Braiding of Knowledge to Improve the Advancement of Addressing Cumulative Effects Towards Collective Futures
Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA) is a significant issue across landscapes in Canada. George Hegmann, a Senior Principal with Stantec and an expert practitioner in CEA (second from left) coordinated a panel that was facilitated by Dr. Monique Dubé (in photo on right), CMN’s Executive Director and also an expert in CEA. Lawrence Ignace, CMN’s Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors and a PhD Candidate in Indigenous-led CEA approaches also participated on the panel. The panel explored limitations of existing methods and practice and the need for Indigenous knowledge and leadership in the field. Panelists proposed solutions such as enabling Indigenous knowledge and leadership in CEA practice, prioritizing self-governance, broadening society's understanding of how Indigenous people relate to the land and each other, and empowering Indigenous languages as vehicles for preserving and transmitting unique perspectives on their connections with the land.
Empowering Indigenous Leadership in Conservation through IPCA Initiatives
The CMN Knowledge Hub Pacific Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) Innovation Centre, part of the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership, is pioneering Indigenous leadership in conservation by focusing on learning, collaboration, and creation within IPCAs. Pam Shaw, Research Director, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute, Vancouver Island University, led a panel highlighting the IPCA Planning Certificate, which emphasizes the importance of culture and language. The center offers an Indigenized education, fostering an ethical space that promotes diverse learning methods and encourages humility and reciprocity, ultimately strengthening Indigenous conservation efforts. The panel included Eli Enns, Co-founder, President and CEO of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation, who also took participants on a tour of the Pacific IPCA Innovation Centre, located in Tofino, Vancouver Island, BC.
Nanuk Narratives: Documenting Inuit Knowledge
Dr. David Borish, a social researcher and filmmaker, is leading the Nanuk Narratives project, which focuses on preserving Inuit knowledge about polar bears in the face of climate change across geocultural boundaries. This Strategic Initiative is a follow-up to the CMN-funded project that produced the highly impactful documentary called HERD. In collaboration with Paninnguaq Pikilak, a Cultural Mediator from Greenland, and a diverse interdisciplinary working group, they aim to make Inuit knowledge more accessible through documentary films and teaching kits. This initiative seeks to bridge cultural gaps, share stories about hunting and human-bear interactions, and emphasize the adaptability of polar bears and the importance of adapting ourselves to changing environmental conditions.
Hills Thought to Be Mountains
Dr. Murray Humphries (on the right side in photo below) and Jackie Hamilton from McGill University presented a geocultural project that aims to include land, life, and people in research by focusing on continental uplands and lowlands. The project highlights the ambiguity in defining mountainous regions and incorporates geospatial analysis, geobiocultural portraits, and local knowledge interviews to identify and distinguish these landscapes. By comparing geoindicators, bioindicators, and cultural indicators, the research brings unique insights into the significance and ecological differences between uplands and lowlands, contributing to a broader understanding of Canada's continental interior regions.
Engaging in Ceremony for Meaningful Research
Paulina Johnson's presentation (on the left side in the photo) brought forth the significance of not just acknowledging but actively hearing voices within academia, particularly those of Indigenous peoples. She highlighted the importance of ceremony and relationality in establishing meaningful and respectful relationships. Johnson is involved in two projects, one related to relational accountability to Mother Earth and the other known as the Land2Lab project, which emphasizes the inclusion of land, life, and people in research.
In summary, the CMN Knowledge Sharing Summit served as a powerful reminder of the potential that lies in collaboration between Indigenous knowledge and Western science. This partnership has the capacity to address critical issues such as climate change, environmental stewardship, and cultural revitalization. It is a testament to the strength of unity and the shared commitment to fostering a brighter future.
We extend our deepest gratitude to all attendees who traveled across Canada to share their knowledge, wisdom, and stories with our Network. It was an incredible opportunity to meet you all in person.
Many thanks to our sponsors, Eco Canada, Teck, Indigenous Centre for Cumulative Effects, Parks Canada, BDO, and Nature Conservancy of Canada, for making this extraordinary event possible.
**All photos by CMN