By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

A few weeks ago, students from Martin Morigeau Elementary School in Canal Flats, together with local Indigenous partners and the Columbia Lake Stewardship Society (CLSS), installed an interpretive sign at Tilley Memorial Park centred on the importance of the Columbia River headwaters.

The sign was a project three years in the making and initially began as a part of a cross-curricular social studies and science inquiry in which students learn about Indigenous peoples in the valley and about the role the wetlands play in the valley’s ecosystem.

Student Kyra Kruk told the Pioneer that a sign “wasn’t the original idea, but we were approached by the CLSS that was creating signs at Tilley Memorial Park about the importance of the Headwaters, so we were excited to join in.”

The resulting informational sign couldn’t be more timely, as Columbia River Treaty negotiations, aimed at modernized the 56-year old treaty, have been ongoing for more than two years.

“We started all of this as a social studies project, but it became part of our leadership club projects after that,” said student Kayleigh Robson, later noting that “the headwaters create a safe space for number of species to grow.”

“The ecosystem could totally topple if they disappeared or were contaminated with pollution. Since the river runs all the way through the valley into the lake, and fish live there, if the headwaters that filter the water are contaminated or polluted, species could die,” added student Lucia Blanchard.

MMES principal Alyssan Gauthier outlined that, in addition to the CLSS, the students collaborated with Wildsight’s Jessie Caza to learn about the wetlands; with Laverna and Basil Stevens, Christine Warbrick and Mark Thomas from the Shuswap Band, Alfred Joseph from the Akisqnuk band and Bonnie Harvey from Ktunaxa Nation to learn more about the history of First Peoples in the Columbia Valley; and that former MMES Aboriginal Education support worker Tisha Tardif supported students’ First People’s language learning using the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa First Voices apps.

The students gave a presentation at the Canal Flats Headwaters Trail during the 2019 Wings Over the Rockies festival to interested community members, which helped raise some of the funds for the sign.

For Kyra, the best part of the project was “getting to share our hard work, because we worked so long on it, and getting to share our knowledge.”

In fact, the student learned so much during the course of the project and came across so many outstanding images, that they said the most difficult part of endeavor was narrowing down which facts and which photos to use on the sign.

“We had a bunch of photos that Kate Watt took, and we had to decide which would be the background for our poster. None of us could agree on what we wanted – some voted for the ones with trees, and others for the wetlands. We had a deadline for the decision, and we ended up deciding on a different photo than some people wanted,” said Lucia. “We also had to cut down on our information so it would fit on the poster, and everyone wanted to have the biggest section for their topic.”

The students added that their desire is that people who see the sign gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Columbia headwaters. Or, as Lucia put it “learn the importance of the headwaters and how we need to take care of it and the importance of salmon and our First Nations people to our land and our history. I just want to say thank you to our Ktunaxa and Secwépemc peoples.”

“I hope people will take this knowledge and inform other people about why the headwaters are so important to our ecosystem,” said Kyra Kruk.