By Julia Magsombol 

Local Journalism Initiative 

julia@columbiavalleypioneer.com

Cutbacks in funding for environmental education programs in the Kootenay region has some educators questioning the move by Columbia Basin Trust (CBT).

“I was shocked. Really,” said Kalista Pruden when she first heard the news.  

And Faye O’Neil, an Indigenous school district coordinator, felt the same way. “Are you joking? You’ve got to be kidding.”

As a result of the cuts, many environmental plans have already been discontinued. Many programs are also affected, especially those that Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) holds. Upon learning the news, many residents were similarly displeased. For background information, visit https://www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/cbt-to-withdraw-funding-for-environmental-education-programs/

“It seems like environmental education would be one of those that should be a priority and should be kept important,” Pruden said. “Seeing some of the funding cut for those is pretty disappointing.” 

She explained that it was unfortunate timing because there’s so much opportunity for environmental programming throughout the summer – especially for children.

Pruden noted that Indigenous peoples in the basin have been the keepers of the land for a long time. They have a close relationship with the land and with food systems. Those perspectives and knowledge are shared through environmental education. Pruden stressed that if the funding for environmental programs is taken away, “kids from all different backgrounds [won’t] have an opportunity to engage with Indigenous peoples in their local area.” 

And if those things are taken away, Pruden asked: “What is there left? What else is there with our next generations that are coming up?” 

O’Neil asked, “Why would you cut education for children? That just doesn’t make any sense to me.” 

She believes that great knowledge for children comes from these environmental programs. She noted that most Indigenous peoples “are living from the rocks. Everything has a living entity. Once we disturb one, we’re disturbing the whole chain.” 

O’Neil said once you cut environmental education, the children will endure its negative effects and will never be able to learn those things. 

“Why are we not providing programs for our children… for the youth? They [need] to be aware of how to take care of mother earth,” she said. 

O’Neil believes that children are the future, so education is the only way for children to learn more about their ancestors and how the environment affects them. 

“If we don’t take care of the environment, we don’t have a healthy ecosystem to sustain any of us,” O’Neil explained. 

In terms of the future, she plans to write a letter to CBT regarding the funding and future of environmental programs. 

“I haven’t written my letter to CBT yet, but I will be,” O’Neil said.  

“From a true reconciliation perspective, it’s really important to ensure that those perspectives are shared,” Pruden said. “I hope that CBT finds a softer way to reduce their funding, with a little more support.”