By Sharon Weatherall
BEAUSOLEIL FIRST NATION –”Our mother is being poisoned, and in turn she is dying. I want to be a part of something big that can help raise awareness as well as do my best to help prevent any further harm that may come to the environment,” said Shane Monague.
The environmentally conscious 18 year-old played the key role of an Atlantic watershed leader in the “Our Water – Our Future” project from September 2013 through April 2014. He was one of four students from the Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) and 12 nation-wide in the program funded through the Vancouver Foundation http://www.vancouverfoundation.ca/ and part of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) http://www.yourcier.org/ -.
The purpose of the Vancouver Foundation is to harness the gifts of energy, ideas, time, and money to make meaningful and lasting impacts in communities. At Vancouver Foundation a priority is to help build a more connected and engaged community while insuring that young people are represented in the process.
CIER’s ultimate impact will be realized when First Nations in Canada are leaders of positive environmental change. They will use the best of western and indigenous knowledge to create a world that is in balance and supports the well-being of all living things. CIER envisions ‘Sustainable First Nation Communities and a Healthy Environment’ with a mission to assist First Nations with building the capacity to address the environmental issues they face. CIER is guided by the values of: Respect, Integrity, Innovation and Excellence, Balance and Teamwork.
Our Water – Our Future is a project in which Indigenous Youth in Canada become water leaders in their communities. Indigenous youth are fully funded to participate in four workshops around the country – Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Hudson Bay watersheds, where they will learn from and be inspired by a variety of leaders from media, politics, and advocacy, literary, scientific and other fields from across Canada.
As Atlantic water shed leaders Monague and his comrades from BFN represented Christian Island and Collingwood in Ontario, Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Keremeos in British Columbia, Yellowknife in North West Territories and Shoal Lake #39 First Nation in Manitoba. During the project the 12 youth came together to discuss their own ideas on ways to help make the future brighter for the environment and specifically the most sacred medicine ‘water’.
Monague initially received information on the Our Water – Our Future Project through Christian Island Youth Council Supervisor – Vicki Monague and was keen to become involved.
“Being on an island and surrounded by water, we knew this would be the perfect opportunity to be a part of something really big. Harmony Monague, Kallie Copegog, Logan Roote and I submitted our letter of interest to The Centre for Indigenous Environmental Affairs. Sometime later we were informed that the four of us had been chosen to represent the Atlantic Water Shed within CIER’s Our Water – Our Future Project. In September 2014 we met with our group leader, Tori Monague,” said Monague.
“My time spent representing not only the Atlantic Watershed but also my community, has taught me a great deal about what it takes to be a leader and also the time and dedication that such things require. It was because of having the incredible opportunity to be a part of something as revolutionary as this project was that I found what I want to be in this life – a voice for this beautiful planet we live on and to work with like-minded people for the betterment and protection of our mother Earth.”
Monague found that despite the vast differences the four communities of Atlantic, Pacific, Hudson and Arctic, knew of the issues and were more than willing to help the youth on their mission to preserve the most sacred medicine – water.
Monague says his own Christian Island community was facing rising bacteria levels which led to the deaths of many of the surrounding local wildlife such as the birds and fish species. This in turn affected the local fishing and recreational use of the water fronts as there was a potential to become ill from the botulism bacteria, whether from prolonged exposure or consumption of contaminated food/water.
“Another issue we had faced was dropping water levels. Being on an island our main source of transportation is the Ferry and without the necessary levels of water that are required for it to properly operate we would essentially be stranded. Thankfully 2014 was a very good year. Since then the waters are at their ideal levels and during the summer of 2014 we had no issues with bacteria contamination,” said Monague.
The Christian Island action plan involved hosting one workshop and inviting the entire community. The youth spoke about their goal and showed how a community could come to a resolution together. At the event some people were presented with rain barrel water conservation kits in the name of water conservation.
The main foundation of the action plan was based around community involvement.
“My community is amazing. It was more than willing to be a part of this just as much as we were and I’m truly so thankful for each and every person who dedicated their time to helping us. It is now 2015 and I am proud to say that our action plan was a success thanks to my fellow members as well as our community,” said Monague.
Monague says being a watershed leader for the Our Water – Our Future project was personally fulfilling while inspiring him to pursue his goals of studying and ultimately becoming an environmental biologist.
“I am truly thankful for being able to be a part of this project. This opportunity has helped shape who I am and who I want to be,” said Monague.
“The project opened my eyes to the fact that our lives are based around water. Water is our main source of life and seeing how badly it’s being treated makes me angry and helped push me to pursue being an advocate for it, as it cannot speak or fight for itself. I would definitely recommend this project to other youth. I will always be thankful for friendships I have made throughout this project. The places I’ve been to and the things I have experienced will stay with me all my life.”