Undergraduate student Elissa Bozhkov returns from feast at ELA

Student Blog – By Elissa Bozhkov

Recently, I had the opportunity to join Heather on a trip to the IISD Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) for their annual Community Fall Feast. We began the day with a tour of the facilities: Deputy Director Pauline Gerrard and Head Research Scientist Vince Palace showed us around the beautiful grounds and labs where many student researchers were hard at work. The research ELA conducts is vital in studying the impacts of human activities on freshwater lakes, educating the public and informing environmental policy. They spoke of one ongoing project where small amounts of mercury are added to a lake to mimic and better understand real life situations of atmospheric mercury contamination from industrial sources.

Later on in the afternoon we were joined by local First Nations in the area from Eagle Lake and Whitefish Bay where we had discussions about water, air and land issues. People from all different backgrounds shared their own personal concerns, stories and thoughts with the group. I had the pleasure of sitting beside one of the Elders during the sharing circle and as he was speaking to everyone and sharing the knowledge that one can only have from truly growing up and living on the land, he looked over at me and said something that really resonated with me: “I hope that in the future, your children and your grandchildren will be able to look up at the trees surrounding them, breathe the fresh air and drink clean water.”

I also had a chance to speak with Elders Margaret and Clarence as we sat around the fire sprinkling tobacco onto the flames, a common practice during feasts. Margaret shared with me an old saying she had learned from her grandfather: “If you listen child, you will live.” She told me how she grew up around Eagle Lake and used to listen for all the animals near her, especially the red-winged blackbird. Now in the springtime, she doesn’t hear the birds songs anymore or the frogs’ croaks down by the water. Sitting around the fire with the Elders was my favourite part of the weekend, because we didn’t talk science or politics. We talked solely about the life all around us; the very land, air and water that continuously provides for us and takes care of us. Clearly, Indigenous people are great knowledge holders of their land around them yet often are not included in the discussion, especially involving issues of the environmental impacts surrounding resource development. This experience was very enlightening and gave me a lot to think about in terms of developing my honours thesis project on reconciliation and healing at ELA.