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Research to incorporate First Nations values in water strategy

Photo credit: Yukon government

Yukon College has been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to work with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) to incorporate the values and Traditional Knowledge (TK) of CAFN people into the First Nation’s draft Water Strategy.

“We are putting renewed energy into our work to complete CAFN’s Water Strategy, since initial work on the strategy began in 2009,” said Dän nätthe ada Kaaxnox (Chief Steve Smith).  “This funding and partnership with Yukon College helps CAFN continue our conversation with Citizens around water with a renewed focus on connecting cultural beliefs and responsibilities with the modern ways we have to manage water today.”

CAFN partnered with Yukon College to create Chu äyì ätlʼet (“The Water In Me”), a project aimed at supporting the development of CAFN’s holistic Water Strategy. Yukon College’s adjunct professor Dr. Douglas Clark facilitated the development of the project and the team of experts to respond to the research needs of CAFN, including CAFN citizens and staff, Yukon Research Centre’s Northern Climate ExChange, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Alberta.

“It is the ultimate goal of this project to determine how a self-governing First Nation can move beyond participating in government-led processes to providing authentic leadership in managing their natural resources”, said Dr. Douglas Clark, Adjunct Professor, Yukon College. “This research is based upon the premise that traditional knowledge expresses an indigenous ethic for environmental stewardship that policy and regulatory processes could ultimately be reoriented around.”

The three main components of this two-year research project are: taking stock of existing documented oral histories, mobilizing CAFN knowledge and values in real-world water management decisions, and revitalizing culture and language through water by compiling traditional place name origins and meanings, including interviews, focus groups, sharing circles, and land-based trips with participants.

The project team is currently researching archival information related to CAFN TK on water and will then be conducting interviews, focus groups and sharing circles with CAFN citizens this winter and spring.

The SSHRC Community and College Social Innovation Fund contributed $239,988 to this project, with additional funding from the University of Saskatchewan and in-kind contributions from CAFN and the Yukon Research Centre.

The Yukon Research Centre has seven key research programs at Yukon College. They include: Biodiversity Monitoring, Cold Climate Innovation, the Northern Climate ExChange, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Mine Life Cycle, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Northern Energy Innovation, Resources and Sustainable Development in the Arctic, and Technology Innovation.

Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) is a self-governing First Nation with traditional territory located in the southwest Yukon and northwest corner of British Columbia, within the headwaters of two major transboundary river basins. The CAFN Final Agreement sets out specific treaty rights and interests for the management and protection of water, including law making authority for water use on or flowing through CAFN Settlement Land.  CAFN started the development of its water strategy in 2009.