Animated smog influenced LWSC coordinator into environmental studies

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Alyssa Belanger is the relatively new community coordinator for the Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council.

As a child, Belanger watched the animated film ‘FernGully: the Last Rainforest’. In the film, a group of happy-go-lucky fairies and other forest inhabitants are endangered by ‘pollution’, voiced by Tim Curry.

“The bad guy was smog,” she says, “and he scared the crap out of me.”

Belanger didn’t think anyone should have to deal with polluted air. She was and continues to be very passionate about the environment and environmental education.

This passion influenced her education decisions. Belanger has a bachelor of arts in environmental studies from the University of Alberta Augustana Campus, in Camrose. This differs from environmental sciences. It focuses on social sciences such as sociology and anthropology, not biology and other hard sciences.

Belanger chose Augustana “because Edmonton is a big scary city, and I grew up in a teeny-tiny town.”

This town is Lac La Biche. There was a wood down the block from Belanger’s home. When it was cut down to build houses, she and her friends held a funeral for the forest.

Belanger moved to High Prairie in May 2019 to work for the LSWC. The watershed council’s office is in High Prairie, but its work in the entire area which drains into Lesser Slave Lake, which includes Kinuso, Slave Lake, and Marten Beach.

“It’s (the community coordinator position is) about more than just teaching people,” she says. It is about connecting with the community, getting a sense of what’s happening with the land, building relationships with people, and teaching environmental education.

The most recent LSWC event Belanger organized was the Kids Can Catch ice fishing event in Joussard on Family Day weekend.

The wind was so bad that the ice fishing was canceled. A volunteer firefighter, lighting a fire on the lake, got lost returning to his truck, which was the width of The Leader office away, which isn’t very far.

Although on land, the event was fun, says Belanger, with a hot dog roast and sledding. The kids watched a fish deboning demonstration.

“I’ve never seen kids as intrigued by blood and guts,” she says, about the demonstration.

Belanger’s work experience includes teaching environmental education. She enjoys seeing kids go from “super grossed out by something to super fascinated.”

One of the LSWC programs she sees this in is the Green Thumbs program. This brings gardening into schools, including vermicomposting, with worms.

Around the time she started the job and moved to High Prairie, Belanger got engaged. Her fiancé works at Tolko in High Prairie. She also started a master of arts in environment education and communication.

“2019 was the absolute definition of chaos,” she says.

The MA is a blended program from Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC. Most of the course is online, with three weeks a year in Victoria.

Belanger hasn’t decided on a thesis, but is leaning toward something to do with Indigenous learning theories in environmental education. This is connected with her roots.

Belanger is both second generation Canadian and has ancestors who have been in Canada for millennium. She is of mixed Cree and European ancestry, but isn’t Métis. Her dad is French Canadian, her mom’s mom immigrated from Great Britain, and her mom’s dad is Cree, from Saddle Lake.

Belanger is very excited that Lesser Slave Lake is in the boreal forest, as it is the same forest she grew up in.

There are some differences. Lesser Slave Lake is in Treaty 8, and she grew up in Treaty 6.

Belanger grew up visiting Saddle Lake and learning from her aunties and kookum about Cree culture. It is 20 minutes southeast of St. Paul and over an hour from Lac La Biche. In this area, both Sawridge and Swan River First Nation are connected with towns, which changes the social dynamics.

Belanger enjoys living in High Prairie.

“I love that it has a movie theatre,” she says. “Our (Lac La Biche’s) shut down when I was in high school. The pool is great. I love just floating in the lazy river that they have.”

Belanger enjoys the closeness of secluded campgrounds.

“It has the benefits of being in the mountains without all the people,” she says. She especially enjoys the Swan Hills.

Alyssa Belanger

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