Aboriginal Training Program
Training Aboriginal Students from the Oil Sands Region
By Melissa Pennell, AEMERA

Aboriginal culture has an unbreakable relationship with the land AEMERA so closely monitors, rooted in a deep spiritual connection to nature. As pioneers in our field, it’s crucial that AEMERA engages with Aboriginal partners to find meaningful ways to braid traditional ecological knowledge into regional monitoring.

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After engaging with First Nation and Métis groups over several months, AEMERA identified a lack of training as a key barrier that prevents Aboriginal communities from participating in environmental monitoring. It’s also inhibiting them from finding employment in the environmental services sector.

In an effort to address this gap, AEMERA is supporting the design and development of an Aboriginal environmental training pilot, led by Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF).

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From 29 applicants, AEMERA selected 15 students from eight First Nation and Métis communities across the oil sands region through a recruitment process. The students will complete five weeks of course time from August to December 2015.

The training pilot focuses primarily on the topics of safety, wildlife, and surface water quality monitoring. The program structure is based on the previous experience of many training providers, including AITF, and Eco Canada’s BEAHR Program. The safety courses range from defensive driving and swift water rescue, to bear and wildlife awareness. Once students complete the program, they’ll be awarded with certificates that qualify them to proceed to higher education or, possibly, an environmental technical position. The 10 total safety courses were selected based on AEMERA’s standards for our own monitoring staff. The wildlife and surface water quality monitoring courses will also be taught using AEMERA standards and protocols.

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It is AEMERA’s hope that this training will be the next step in building a dedicated source of community members to help deliver regional monitoring activities. Bill Donahue, AEMERA Vice President and Chief Monitoring Officer, explains, “As AEMERA engages with Aboriginal groups and communities, and endeavours to braid traditional ecological knowledge into regional environmental monitoring, we have heard from several groups and communities that increased access to training is critical. The Aboriginal training pilot will provide Aboriginal community members with enhanced technical skills that will allow them to actively participate in local environmental monitoring. We are very excited to work with our first cohort of trainees from the Lower Athabasca region.”

Educators from AEMERA, the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), AITF, and other certified instructors will provide the training to the students.

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