This spring, 16 youth from across Canada came together in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory as part of Ocean Wise’s Ocean Bridge program. Sarah Sattar is a 2023 Ocean Bridge ambassador from Regina, Saskatchewan, currently pursuing a BSc in Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina. Through her education and experiences, she strives to promote climate science literacy and to raise awareness about environmental justice issues. She is an activist with Regina Energy Transition and is a writer with Muslim Climate Watch. Read her reflection, From Freshwater to Activism: Ocean Bridge Ambassadors Unite in Wiikwemkoong, below!
From Freshwater to Activism: Ocean Bridge Ambassadors Unite in Wiikwemkoong For The Great Lakes Remote Learning Journey
Being part of Ocean Wise’s Ocean Bridge Great Lakes remote learning journey was a truly memorable and empowering experience. This place-based learning setting provided me with a valuable opportunity to connect with a diverse cohort of like-minded youth from across Canada. We travelled together to Manitoulin Island – the largest freshwater island in the world, which was the perfect setting that allowed us to immerse in the realm of environment activism. We also had the privilege to learn and interact with the Anishinabek people of Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, which was a highlight of my journey.
The Future of Sustainable Fisheries
We visited a Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certified Indigenous fish farm named Buzwah fisheries. We learned about sustainable fishing practices and challenges in the industry. Buzwah harvests and sells around 2.5 million pounds of rainbow trout a year.
In ocean and freshwater lakes, fish stocks have plummeted due to a combination of overfishing, pollution and invasive species. Today, Buzwah Fisheries is an example of the future of sustainable fish farming.
Exploring Endangered Species, Cultural Significance, and Indigenous Resilience
It was an honour to be invited by the Wikwemikong Lands and Natural Resources Department to learn about endangered species and visit a marsh that facilitated an interactive and place-based learning environment. Kiosks placed throughout the trail containing booklets showcased various threatened species that live in the marsh, ranging from the Blanding’s turtle which are characterized by a bright yellow chin and throat, to the red-headed woodpecker.
At the smokehouse and Lands Department, we also learned about the cultural, dietary and health significances of water protection for traditional Indigenous food such as wild rice, which grow in marshlands and waterways. Our group had the opportunity to collectively plant dozens of pine trees. We also learned about the resiliency, history, and contemporary realities of Indigenous land negotiations with the Canadian government, reaching as far back as the 1860s. By the end of 2023, Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory will be the 3rd largest reserve in colonial Canada.
Indigenous Clan Systems
We learned about traditional Anishinabek and broader Indigenous governance systems – which consists of various clans, each having a functional role to play in society. For instance, the Bear Clan traditionally provides protection and security for others. The Bird Clan are traditionally responsible for spreading knowledge as they can fly high in the sky and observe from great distances.
Despite the imposition of colonial institutions and policies on traditional Indigenous clan systems and governance, Indigenous peoples continue to demonstrate resilience and strength. Each time our Indigenous hosts and guides introduced themselves, they proudly identified the clan they belong to. Their resilience and fortitude, as well as their enthusiasm in sharing knowledge and wisdom with non-Indigenous peoples inspired me as a person of colour and reinforces my conviction to the fight for climate justice and environmental advocacy.
From Freshwater to Activism: Finding Support and Hope in Challenging Times
Throughout this learning journey, I formed meaningful friendships with like-minded individuals. They are sources of inspiration, providing me with sincere advice in the context of global ecological crises and eco-anxiety. I shared with them the challenges I face trying to bring positive environmental change in the Prairie region. Regina is one of the last cities in Canada to adopt a framework for climate action in 2022. Despite the passing of the Regina’s Energy & Sustainability Framework in 2022, there has been little funding allocated to this area and no observable efforts or action has been made to implement this framework.
At the end of each learning journey day, the other ambassadors and I bonded over conversations regarding eco-activism. I opened up to them about my worries and frustration around climate inaction, especially in my community. One of things my roommate said to me that was particularly memorable was:
“when the community you want does not exist, create the community that you envision, one step at a time.”
Another moment that stuck with me was when another ambassador said that “when the door you need to get through to the other side won’t open, sometimes you need to break a wall and make yourself a window to climb through”.
Inspired by the resilience of the Anishinabek, and the peer mentorship from the other youth ambassadors, I developed a renewed sense of hope to help lead environmental action and a strong sense of confidence to engage and educate my local community on sustainability. From freshwater to activism, my journey with Ocean Bridge provided me with the tools and support to make a difference.
I joined this program because I wanted to develop my leadership skills to better lead environmental activism in my community. I am very thankful for this wonderful experience.