On March 11, 2013, Rob Penner (University College of the North), Dr. Annemieke Farenhorst (UM agriculture, NSERC chair), and Pepper-Mackena Pritty (UM nursing student) led a discussion on engaging youth in water rights issues.

All three researchers have recently helped with projects in Sapotaweyak Cree Nation that teach local youth scientific and Indigenous perspectives on water. In keeping with the OCAP principles, which are essential when partnering with First Nations communities, these projects were based on the community’s desires and needs.

We went in with open minds and open hearts to listen and understand what it was that the community wanted to see,” explained Pritty. “That was a real important, critical part of building this relationship – going in and making sure we weren’t just dictating, but we were there to facilitate and share and learn.”

One way the researchers listened to the community was through a participatory technique called Photovoice. In Photovoice projects, participants receive cameras and take photos of images they feel represent an important theme. The participants gather to discuss the images and then share their findings with target audiences, such as policy makers. Penner noted that although it can be difficult to use Photovoice with high school students, the project with the Sapotaweyak youth worked very well.

“[We had] 176 images and students starting to talk about water in their community.”

The community also wanted the children to learn about water quality. Alongside community Elders, Pritty and a fellow university student helped run a science camp to teach local youth about the rich history and spiritual aspects of their water, and to empower youth to test the water. The community decided which pieces of equipment they would receive at the end of the project.

“We were teaching the students how to use the equipment so they could do experiments when we were gone,” Pritty said.

Were the projects a success? Farenhorst feels that answer lies in the following quote from a young science camp participant.

“I think water is the key to life. It’s the most important thing you can ever have. We wouldn’t live without it,” Arianna Rickard said.

The researchers will continue building their relationship with Sapotaweyak Cree Nation. Plans include helping build a community-run website about traditional and scientific aspects of water, and opening University of Manitoba labs to students, including via the Verna J. Kirkness Education Foundation. Pritty and the director of WISE Kid-netic Energy may also partner to send instructional videos of fun science experiments to the school in Sapotaweyak.

Questions asked this week:

What came out of the Photovoice project at Sapotaweyak?

Penner said the youth compiled three storyboards with photos and scripts describing what the photos meant to the students. It was clear that the students found it strange to think about water quality. “Overwhelmingly, the initial response was that ‘We don’t have a problem with water quality.’”

Can you tell us more about the work you did with the Elders?

Pritty said the Elders played a large role in the science camp. The Elders came to all discussions, opened with prayers, shared their experiences, and led ceremonies. “It was very important for the students and very important for us to participate [in ceremonies],” she said. Today, the Elders help the science teacher run the after-school water-related programs.

See seminar series podcasts and schedule.