The Peace River is the foundation of a major watershed in northeastern BC. It lies within the territories of Treaty 8 First Nations. The 39 Nations who are signatories to Treaty 8 are part of the Sicannie (Sikanni), Slavey, Beaver (Dunne-za), Cree, Saulteau, Dene and Mechif linguistic groups.
By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator, Kirsten Dallimore
Sierra Club BC’s Education Team has been hard at work! Just last week, we delivered thirteen school-based workshops and two professional development workshops for teachers in Treaty 8 territory of the Dane-zaa people. More specifically, we taught in the communities of Dawson Creek, Wonowon and Fort St John during Science Odyssey, thanks to the support of NSERC’s PromoScience Program.
It turns out we arrived at a good time in the season. We heard that even last week the snow was still flying there, so we were very thankful to feel some warm sunshine. The sun was working hard to melt the remaining patches of snow left in the forests, the robins were singing in the tree tops, and the new buds were forming on the trees in the area. It was an idyllic spring scene.
This May backdrop provided the perfect setting to launch our exploratory and hands-on learning programs both inside and outside the classroom doors. These activities help students make a personal connection to and develop a greater sense of place in their own community.
For example, the People and Plants workshop we ran focused on learning about local plants’ ecology and habitat and their Indigenous uses. In the northern edition of this workshop, we explored the importance of Saskatoon berry bushes, cottonwood trees, Labrador tea and the birch tree.
I am happy to report that most of these kids still have the opportunity to go out and collect these plants and that they still grow in their communities. I had the privilege of hearing stories about students collecting Saskatoon berries with their families on their own farms and making jam and baking pies. Others shared their experiences of collecting Labrador tea leaves and drinking the tea themselves for medicine.
Making birch syrup is also a popular hobby in the north. Students in Wonowon were particularly proud to share their knowledge about this tradition. They truly appreciate the work that takes place within their own community by collecting the sap in the early spring, then boiling it to make the syrup.
I felt there was a spark that was ignited within the students while learning more about taking care of and respecting nature. This got students thinking about how they are responsible for being stewards of the land and practicing the sustainable harvesting of local plants. Most importantly, it’s also up to them to share this understanding with members of their family and community.
Since my first visit, the Peace River Valley has run deep in my heart. For what will this place look like in 100 years? Will we have done what needs to be done to protect this place? It is always a gift to have the opportunity to visit the Peace River Valley because it is a place of great natural and cultural history. The relationship that people who live along the Peace have with the land and water is truly sacred.
When I go to stand and look down on the river, I see a river that is calm and free flowing and I also see a river that is raging and mighty. The Peace River is most definitely a mighty force of nature carving out this grand northern landscape. So I stand on its shores and wonder; what are the stories this river can share with us? What are the lessons we must learn from it? How can we best take care of this river so that it is able to keep flowing freely right now and in the future?
Thank you School District 60 (Peace River North) for inviting us to be part of your community again this year, and School District 59 (Peace River South) for welcoming Amira and I for the first time. I wish everyone the best for a beautiful spring and that you, too, may get the chance to stand on the mighty shores of the Peace River one day.
Feature image by Graham Osborne.
The Peace River Valley is a very special place. It stole my heart when I traveled there for my Master’s research, and then again, the following summer when I attended the Paddle for the Peace. The landscape, waterways and the big prairie sky compelled me, as did the people I met there—the teachers, students, and other community members who allowed me to hear and share in their stories of the river valley.
I’m certainly not alone in this. In a recent photo-journal about her trip to the region, Heidi Gartner, a Collections Manager at the Royal BC Museum, explains that, “the best part of the bioblitz was that we were joined, supported, and guided by local naturalists, land owners and First Nations.”
She traveled there last summer as part of a “bioblitz”, which is an event where researchers and other local residents come together to identify as many species of flora and fauna as possible.
In this case, the bioblitz was especially significant given the threat of the proposed Site C Dam. The area that would be flooded is known to be an important hub for biodiversity, but just what and how many different species rely on the valley had never been examined in this way before.
Check out Heidi’s photo-journal of the bioblitz for the whole story.
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