Putting Training into Action
Tlowitsis Guardians Gina Thomas and Brandon Wilson have a large territory to cover, lots to do, and only two of them to do it all. “So we have to be very strategic about what projects we undertake,” says Gina. “Last year, the strategy was to make sure we spent our time learning as much as possible about the territory, identify what information and surveys we needed to undertake to meet the Nation’s needs, and then plan how to undertake the surveys and gather the information. This year, we wanted to start applying that learning and begin monitoring to establish our baseline needs.”
A busy season
As a result, 2016 has been even busier than last year. In between being out on the water working, both Gina and Brandon crammed in even more training with Vancouver Island University, including drone mapping, archaeology, and electro-fishing certification. By March 2017, when the training is completed, they will both be certified Stewardship Technicians with qualifications in subjects as diverse as compliance monitoring to diving and bear awareness.
Putting new skills into action
In the meantime, they applied some of their newfound skills to a range of projects in the territory, and even further afield. The pair mapped local clam beds, kelp beds, eelgrass and cultural features. When Wei Wai Kum learned Tlowitsis had acquired a drone and the skills to use it for mapping, biologist Kelsey Campbell asked Tlowitsis if they would be able to map Nunns Creek as part of Wei Wai Kum’s assessment project on the stream. Gina and Brandon were more than happy to comply: “Partnerships like that are really important,” observes Gina. “It’s good to build the relationships between us by sharing technology and information.”
Connecting to the ancestors through archaeological knowledge
One of the highlights of the summer was putting into practice archaeological inventory training they received in June from Inlailawatash Natural Resource Services archaeologist Morgan Ritchie. While working with Ritchie, they were able to confirm the existence of a 2,000-year-old village site Gina had discovered a few years previously while doing forestry work. While she had suspected it was a village site, she hadn’t been certain. Ritchie confirmed she was correct, which, says Brandon, “was an amazing feeling. It felt so good to learn our ancestors were
Subsequently, Gina and Brandon have established the existence of two similar, bigger sites. “Having the archaeologist come back in to see them and tell us we were exactly right was such a confirmation that we know what we are seeing now,” says Gina. “Before this all we saw were features in the landscape and now we know what we’re looking at. It’s so cool to have our eyes opened and be able to do this, and having someone like Morgan Ritchie recognize we know what we’re doing feels amazing.”
Constant learning through stewardship work
Another highlight was escorting Harvard Business School Communications Director Dan Morrell and former Nanwakolas planner Wally Eamer in the territory while Morrell interviewed Eamer about his work with the Great Bear Rainforest and ecosystem-based management. “That was so interesting. We learned a lot just listening to Wally talking about the history,” says Gina.
2017: Another busy year ahead
2017 promises to be every bit as busy as 2016 for the Tlowitsis Guardians. They may be finishing their training in March, but they will be diving (sometimes literally!) into new projects as well as carrying on their existing monitoring programs.
With assistance from other agencies like Nanwakolas, Vancouver Aquarium, the Clam Garden Network, VIU, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences, Inlailawatash and A-Tlegay Fisheries Society, Gina and Brandon will be monitoring sediment pollution in the Port Neville area to collect baseline data on a range of species and on water temperature and salinity, investigating areas of cultural vulnerability and sensitivity, conducting fish surveys, and identifying more archaeological sites in the territory—among many other activities.
There aren’t many quiet moments for the Guardians, but the joy they get out of their work is tangible. “Being out on the water and knowing we are looking after the territory for the Nation is such a great feeling,” says Brandon. “We love what we do.”