A unique water education program is accepting applications
- By Memory McLeod
Creating opportunities for BIPOC youth to take part in a land and water reconciliation project is more than a job for Jacqueline Watson-Thompson, it’s a passion.
“I didn’t know I was capable of negotiating reconciliation on my own terms,” she said.
That was until she connected with Ocean Bridge, a free volunteer-based program that promotes animal and land stewardship with a focus on ocean conservation and freshwater preservation.
“When youth understand their connection to land and water, they can do a lot of good work,” said Watson-Thompson.
It also provides an opportunity for BIPOC youth to learn about Indigenous culture.
“We can teach our youth, along with the protocols of tobacco and sage... water is one of the first spirit medicines we were given,” said Watson-Thompson.
She encourages those with an interest in land and water conservation to apply to Ocean Bridge, especially those from northern communities who might not otherwise have access to such reconciliation-focused opportunities.
This year, 160 youth ambassadors will take part in a five-month program. It will include both online and land-based learning, a remote urban learning journey to Ottawa, working with Indigenous communities to understand water connections and learning about traditional historical hunting and fishing practices that protect ecosystems.
For Great Lakes region ambassador Nicole Doray, participating in Ocean Bridge in 2022 expanded her understanding in many ways.
It went from the classroom and laboratories into something tangible, particularly when they interacted with Indigenous Elders of Wikwemikong, Ont., which is the world’s largest freshwater island.
“The Indigenous families were so gracious, generous with their time and knowledge,” she said “We were welcomed into spaces we normally wouldn’t be privileged to experience... This is experiential knowledge that is missing from other non-profit and environmental agencies.”
Visiting the ruins of an Indian Residential School helped the environmental scientist connect the dots between individual work towards advocacy and reconciliation, and community and cultural understanding.
“Building connections in a meaningful way takes time,” said Doray. “We were able to create a deep sense of community among us through shared values, such as how to protect and promote the health of water ecosystems in a way that respects Indigenous knowledge.”
Cultural diversity is built into the program and fostered through efforts toward inclusion of underrepresented youth in the sciences.
“We try to support our youth where they are at,” said Watson-Thompson.
Special care is taken to help reduce barriers for any Indigenous youth who is interested in the program, she explained. It could be as simple as taking their application over the phone to providing a childcare subsidy to cover mileage or provide necessary equipment.
Watson-Thompson hopes to attract a range of applicants between the ages of 19 to 30 from various backgrounds or areas of study for the upcoming intake.
“It’s not just for those who are taking classes in environmental sciences, just as long as they are looking toward conservation and working towards that goal,” Watson-Thompson said.
Selection of the first cohort of 2023 takes place in mid-March with orientation taking place in April. The next cohort is planned for the fall 2023.