The Wetlands Education Program Beats The Heat With Chawathil First Nation

From June 25 – 27, the Wetlands Education Program (WEP) team had the pleasure of partnering with Chawathil First Nation for the 2021 Chawathil Wetlandkeepers Workshop. This workshop was designed to provide a brief, but in-depth overview of the technical skills and knowledge needed to become better wetland stewards. Over the course of two and a half days, participants learned about wetland classification; plant identification; soil classification; traditional and medicinal uses of plants; invasive species management; beaver influences on wetlands; fish trapping; and conducting rapid health assessments. In this workshop, everyone had the pleasure of sharing their diverse range of experiences and knowledge.

The group consisted of 10 participants from Chawathil First Nation, Skawahlook First Nation, Shxwowhamel First Nation, and Stó:lō Resource and Research Management Centre employees. Each person brought a wealth of knowledge being in diverse professional backgrounds, including Indigenous monitoring, lands management, Hul’q’umín’um’ language teacher, referrals officer, Indigenous guardianship, and Chawathil environmental coordinator. The historical, and environmental knowledge present in our participants opens many opportunities for knowledge transfer throughout the workshop.

Chawathil First Nation territory is located on what is known currently as Hope, B.C., and is part of the Tiy’t Tribe Territory in the upper Stó:lō which includes 7 different Nations: Yale First Nation, Skawahlook First Nation, Union Bar First Nation, Seabird Island First Nation, Shxwiwhamel First Nation, Popkum First Nation, and Peters First Nation. There are 3 different language dialects in the Hul’q’umín’um’ language and Chawathil speaks upper Stó:lō Hul’q’umín’um’. Chawathil is an assimilated Nation, with the second-highest population behind Seabird Island, consisting of 635 people.

Chawathil First Nation’s current territory consists of 5 reserve lands identified as Indian Reserve 1-4 and 6. Indian Reserve 5, although a part of their traditional territory, was taken by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913 for the expansion of the rail system. The Nation is still working on recovering Indian Reserve 5 to this day. Chawathil First Nation is focusing on the growth of their people and how the community have been impacted by the residential school system and smallpox. The Nation is currently working on purchasing more land, and growing their community, ensuring that they can be looked after for future generations to come.

The first day of the workshop started in our virtual classroom at 5 pm on a Friday. The class consisted of an introduction to wetlands, values and losses and wetland classification. This introduction to wetlands provided the participants with background knowledge before meeting in the field. 

With a forecasted high of 42° Celsius for the day, Saturday started bright and early to escape the worst of the heat. Carol Peters, Chawathil First Nation elder and expert in the medicinal and traditional uses of local plants guided the participants in a wetland plant walk and talk. She shared her advanced knowledge on the different types of plants, their medicinal uses, and their Hul’q’umín’um’ names. A few of the plants that Carol discussed were Red Elderberry, Horsetail and St. John’s Wort. Each of these plants had a variety of uses and are valuable medicines.

Red Elderberry is a native plant that is not edible until it is properly cooked or processed. The leaves of Red Elderberry can be used as an eyewash after boiling. This plant can also clean out your pores and help cure sinus problems.

Horsetail is another native plant that is very common in wetlands. Horsetail has a lot of joints and one of its medicinal properties is to help with joint pain! It is also a cure for urinary tract infections when being made into an oil or tea.

St. John’s Wort is most popular for traditional medicine for anxiety, depression, and relaxation. The leaves are soaked in an oil, called a carrier oil, which will become infused with the compounds found in the plant that is being soaked. When preparing this plant-based oil, it must sit in the sun or window for a total of 1,000 hours or 3 months!

After the walk and talk, Alyssa Purse concluded the in-field part of the day by introducing two invaluable guidebooks: the Wetland Guidebook and Coastal Plant Guidebook of BC. Using these books, she taught the participants how to do wetland classification, soil texturization, and plant identification. During the wetland classification, the participants got the opportunity to see Western Toad Tadpoles in the Shallow Open Water wetland! 

Western Toad tadpoles in the Shallow Open Water wetland

Later that evening, Annette Luttermann presented about beaver influences on wetlands. In the presentation, Annette introduced the beaver’s biology, purposes, and environmental importance. Beaver dams reduce the water flow of rivers and streams, and floods the local area, creating the basic requirements for complex wetland habitats to form. These types of wetlands are of huge importance for other species’ survival (Thomson Environmental Consultants, 2020). 

Before the next day’s workshop session, the WEP team likes to explore and enjoy the tourist attractions in each city that we get the pleasure of visiting. For Hope, that tourist attraction was the 1982 Rambo: First Blood face cut-out in the town center. 

The next morning, the participants got up bright and early to hear biologist, Mike Pearson, talk about constructed wetlands, fish trapping, and took the group to see an intact beaver pond. Mike started the day by providing background on the constructed shallow open water wetland that was built in the summer of 2020. This wetland was constructed because Chawathil First Nation was interested in restoring salmon populations in the area and wanted to do a plant inventory. Chawathil First Nation then partnered with Mike Pearson on this wetland restoration project.

When conducting fish trapping in the area, they found Cutthroat trout, Coho, and Salish Sucker populations in the stream and wetland. Salish sucker is a rare species and is only found in 10 streams in the valley. Salish Sucker is a species at risk, so the presence of this species opened a lot of doors for the wetland construction project, providing funding and support to restore the fish populations.

There is still ongoing monitoring at this site and Mike is working with Chawathil First Nation on developing a culturally important plant list that will be installed at the wetland. The Nation is also planning to build a walkway and benches so that the community can enjoy every aspect of this beautiful wetland. Mike then shared his advanced knowledge about fish trapping, showing everyone how to set up the traps, their purpose, and in-depth knowledge about the fish themselves. 

The participants concluded the field portion by doing some bushwhacking to the intact beaver pond. On the way, we discovered GIANT skunk cabbage that was as tall as some participants. The skunk cabbages leaves were also used as shade on this hot day! The beaver pond was a spectacular treat for everyone because it is very rare to be able to visit an intact beaver pond without swimming to it. The beaver pond was crystal clear because the water runs off the mountains feeding into the pond so there is very little sediments mixed into the water. 

The final portion of the workshop concluded online conducting rapid health assessments, and wetland mapping and delineation. Alyssa Purse and Alana Higginson organized a rapid health assessment activity where the participants did a 360-virtual tour of a wetland in the lower mainland, and the participants conducted a rapid health assessment. The 360-tour kept the participants engaged and made it feel like they were in the field exploring the wetland. Rapid health assessments are critical for insight and understanding about a range of factors that affect the behaviours related to how best to support the ecosystem and reduce its risk. 

A very special thank you to the WEP’s partner Chawathil First Nation, for inviting the BCWF to their territory and allowing us to exchange knowledge on wetland conservation. Thank you to all the participants, who truly made this workshop incredible with all your hard work, participation, and environmental expertise. The WEP team would also like to thank the guest speakers Carol Peters, Nicci Bergunder, Annette Luttermann, and Mike Pearson, who brought such valuable knowledge and experiences to the workshop. 

Additionally, thank you to the funders for enabling us to hold this workshop: The Province of BC and Wildlife Habitat Canada

To see more photos from this workshop, check out our Flickr album here

References

Thomson Environmental Consultants. (2020). The biodiversity benefits of beavers. Retrieved from https://www.thomsonec.com/news/biodiversity-benefits-beavers/#:~:text=By%20gnawing%20down%20trees%20and%20building%20dams%2C%20beavers,basic%20requirements%20for%20complex%20wetland%20habitats%20to%20form.

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