Swan River First Nation working toward ecological reconciliation

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Reconciliation is a term that is used often, but what is ‘ecological reconciliation’?

On April 29, 2021, Swan River First Nation, Project Forest, IKEA Edmonton, and Environmental Services Association of Alberta held a webinar called “Ecological Reconciliation – The Re-introduction of Traditional Plants, Foods and Spaces to Swan River First Nation.”

“Reconciliation is a term that everyone hears all the time,” said Dustin Twin, Swan River First Nation council member, in the webinar. “It is very political.”

There are at least two views on reconciliation, he continued. Canada feels it needs to reconcile with Indigenous peoples.

“For us, reconciliation is more about our relationship with Mother Earth and Turtle Island, which is our territory,” Twin said.

Twin started the webinar with an Indigenous version of a land acknowledgement. In Cree and English, he welcomed everyone to the land of the bear, eagle, birch, spruce, etc.

“We come to speak on their behalf as Native people,” he said.

The webinar was the first public engagement on a new project on Swan River First Nation. Project Forest will be planting trees, food bearing shrubs, and other plants on a 40-hectare riparian area within the First Nation reserve.

“Our goal is to sustain life,” said Twin. All life, “not just human life.”

Swan River is in the midst of doing a food gathering study. The plants identified in this study will be the ones that will be planted. All of these are native to the area, but have been removed. At the moment, the land is unproductive agricultural land.

“It’s like an old mining town,” said Twin. “We’re living on this abandoned farm. It’s not conducive to our culture.”

The land is also the site of a traditional burial ground. Part of the project is maintaining a trail and access to the area.

The plan is to use the “area to share knowledge and practice ceremony,” said Twin. Part of this will be in hiring local young people to plant the trees.

Swan River First Nation also partners with the Lesser Slave Watershed Council on water monitoring of the Swan River. It is also working on protecting Arctic grayling.

Project Forest was started in October 2020. It works with companies to offset their carbon footprint.

“Trees are part of the solution,” said Mike Toffan, Founder and Managing Director of Project Forest.

IKEA has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, said Dani Rohs, Communications for Sustainability Responsible at IKEA Edmonton. This is only nine years away.

IKEA Edmonton was the first IKEA to add an Indigenous showroom, she added. This was done in consultation with Indigenous people.

A recording of the webinar is available on esaa.org/events/webinars. More information about the project is on projectforest.ca.

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