Sustainable Development Success Stories

National environmental education and training program

Location Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Responsible Organisation Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, Inc. (CIER).
Description The Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources was created in response to the need, voiced by the indigenous peoples of Canada, (the First Nation peoples), to address issues of environmental degradation in their communities and develop the skills necessary to record, interpret, monitor, solve, and engage in an ongoing process of control and protection of their lands and resources. An Environmental Training Needs Assessment, conducted in fall 1995, indicated that the First Nations needed technical specialists skilled in conducting environmental audits and assessments, and to create monitoring and modelling systems. Results also strongly recommended that environmental specialists should be knowledgeable and skilled in the areas of ethics, advocacy, community development and mediation. The need assessment emphasised the importance of maintaining Aboriginal knowledge of the environment as the basis for dealing with environmental assessments and protection. Consideration of these issues resulted in the creation of an innovative, unique and culturally based national pilot project, the Environmental Education and Training Program (EETP) launched in 1996.

The EETP, funded by Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC is comprised of 15-months of class instruction and a 3-month field-practice component. Its goals are to:

  • provide First Nation youth with meaningful employment opportunities;

  • provide accredited post-secondary education that incorporates both Western and Indigenous scientific knowledge;

  • re-establish cultural continuity through the provision of Elders teachings; and

  • bridge common understandings and partnerships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in environmental matters.

Issues Addressed Education, Capacity-building, Science.
Results Achieved
  • Access to Elders: As a means of restoring cultural connection to youth, over 90% of whom had little or no contact with Elders from their particular tribal grouping, CIER has succeeded in bringing in over 40 Elders from 11 of the major tribal groups within Canada, as members of each instructional team.

  • Post-Graduation Employment - Rates and Type of Employment: Within two months of graduation, 83% of EETP graduates were employed by local aboriginal community governments, environmental engineering consulting firms, Canadian government departments, aboriginal environmental and educational organisations, and resource development corporations. The remaining 17% of first year graduates are enrolled in University of Manitoba to complete an Environmental Science degree.

  • Instructor Retention: Of the 88 instructors involved with teaching in the EETP to date, only two have indicated that they would be unwilling to work with the EETP in the future due to ideological differences. Of the 86 remaining, all have expressed the wish to be permanently involved with the EETP. Additionally, they have indicated a desire to collaborate with CIER in documenting and publishing academic works reflecting on the unique EETP experience.

  • Application Rates: The number of First Nation youth applying to the EETP is increasing at an annual average rate of 30%.

  • Integration of Western and Indigenous Science.

Lessons Learned As the nature of this initiative is grounded and guided by the fundamental belief that indigenous and western scientific systems can work successfully together, CIER was faced with many challenging and unique tasks to accomplish and questions to answer. The EETP is the first of its kind in Canada and, as with any pioneering effort, there are many "lessons learned". The following are some of our experiences.
  • At the commencement of the EETP, we had to define traditional knowledge and found that, in Canada, indigenous knowledge is defined differently, depending on whom you ask. For the purposes of the EETP we needed to focus on land-based skills, while still ensuring an adequate understanding of their traditional spiritual foundation. Recognition of the need to include both forms of knowledge in some manner, without shifting the primary goal of the program from environmental issues to cultural issues, was critical.

  • In presenting indigenous ecological knowledge to our students, we took the initiative to learn about the nature and characteristics of the elders from many indigenous groups across Canada. This was critical to ensure coherence in the curriculum, and to demonstrate the practical application of indigenous environmental knowledge to each subject area.

  • Potential difficulties that we face relate to one knowledge system taking precedence or being dominant over the other. For this reason, each course in the EETP is formally taught by an instructional team of three people, an Aboriginal scholar, a Western scientific scholar and an Elder.

  • Initially in the first year of the EETP, we requested that the Elders teaching in the program come into the city and teach at the Centre. This posed a problem because it was difficult for the Elders to transmit their knowledge and expertise of the land to the students in a city setting. To facilitate this learning process, we discovered that the students need to be out of the classroom and on the land to apply the learning as much as possible.

  • As part of our ongoing evaluation mechanism for the EETP, we conduct written and oral (considering the relevance of oral tradition to indigenous peoples) reviews with both the students and instructors at the culmination of each course. The results have been very beneficial to understanding the students, our current position, and highlighting what areas of the EETP need further attention.

Contacts Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources
310 Johnston Terminal, 25 Forks Market Road
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3C 4S8
Merrell-Ann S. Phare, Executive Director
Tel. (204) 956 0660; Fax: (204) 956 1895
Website: http://www.cier.mb.ca