Iniskim Campus Ecology Project
The Iniskim Campus Ecology Project aims to build long-lasting relationships between the University of Lethbridge and Blackfoot Confederacy. In 2018, the Agility Program was advised by several Elders about the project idea, and we have since started working with over 20 students. The project aims to reintroduce native prairie plants to the U of L's campus grounds as part of the revitalization of the grounds and as a movement towards reconciliation. Every summer, we host a cohort of 6-8 students who conduct field research with professors and are advised by Blackfoot Elders. Any student, from any program of study is eligible to participate by leading a research or creative project of their own choosing. Previous students have researched the psychological benefits of nature and connecting to land for indigenous populations, conducted a survey of insects on camps, created natural controls for ground squirrel populations, researched an invasive plant called created wheatgrass, created a flowering and sprouting plan of native prairie plants to inform cancer research, and planted 4 indigenous trees across campus in response to a TRC call for survivors of residential schools (in process).
This project reintroduces native plant species to the U of L campus while creating a high impact learning experience for students. Once these plants are re-introduced, the project will create self-guided walking tours that are free and available for anyone in the community to enjoy. The self-guided tours will highlight the plants, their significance to our area, and involve storytelling from our indigenous leaders. The overarching goal of the project is to allow students to take a leadership role in decolonizing the U of L, creating an accessible database of ecological research, inform campus groundskeepers about sustainable ecological practices, and highlight the traditions and vibrant culture of Blackfoot indigenous peoples.
This year, we are looking to bring students on to the cohort who will be planting native species across campus, as advised by Knowledge Keepers, and to introduce a bee colony to campus grounds. By introducing both bees and plants in the spring and summer of 2021, we hope that pollination will be kick-started. Self-guided walking tours will be created next. A pilot self-guided walking tour with 4 reconciliation trees will be tested this year. The community will be able to geocache, use an augmented reality application, or follow a printed guide.
Who Will it Benefit?
This project has many stakeholders. The U of L students will benefit from access to an innovative, unique, and high impact learning experience. These students will get to have access to Blackfoot leaders and professors, while also working towards their own research or creative project. The learning that the students get in this cohort have been demonstrated to be highly impactful in the past. For example, students have received co-op terms, discovered their passion and changed their majors, presented their research at conferences, and been accepted into research labs in their 2nd year of undergraduate studies with scholarships.
Our campus community and grounds will benefit. Increasing the understanding of our grounds will help advise our groundskeepers in their maintenance of the grounds. The grounds will be revitalized, building on the diversity of our local plant and animal ecosystems. Creating a more sustainable campus with open access research will help others who want to revitalize and create sustainable environments of their own.
The Lethbridge community and broader community will benefit from access to revitalized and decolonized land. Once plants are introduced, self-guided walking tours across campus will be available for anyone in the community to take. These tours will include stories from Elders and Blackfoot Knowledge Keepers to teach our community about the vibrant indigenous culture in our region.
The Blackfoot, Metis, and other indigenous communities will also benefit. We are introducing plants that have cultural and traditional significance to the Blackfoot communities. The Blackfoot advisors have told the leads of the project about plants that are hard to find due to climate change and pest control. Some of these plants include mint, sage, and red okra. By planting these plants on our campus grounds, we are creating a new environment where urban indigenous community members can pick and gather traditional plants.
Our professors also benefit from this project as they get to engage in research they are passionate about and can mentor students. For instance, Dr. Roy Golsteyn is researching native prairie plants and their potential to treat cancer. By engaging with indigenous communities and bringing these plants to campus, his students can learn right on campus.