Qwelmínte Secwépemc recently wrapped up a second successful year of its one-of-a-kind internship program for Indigenous students at the university level.
These interns become active players for transformation in land and resource management in a manner upholding Secwépemc law, jurisdiction and governance.
“In both the summers of 2019 and 2020, we were fortunate to have some talented Indigenous university students join our team,” said Sunny LeBourdais, Qwelmínte Secwépemc director of transformation.
“They came from an array of university programs: law, geography and environmental studies, communications, science (physics and mathematics) and business administration. They dove straight in and helped us grow both in our own capacity and accomplishments, as well as adding to their own skills and success.”
Sophie Collins was one of the four 2020 interns and her cumulative effects project explores moose within the North Thompson watershed and how much land it takes to sustain them.
By using a program called ALCES (A Landscape Cumulative Effects Software), she was able to learn more about moose and their changing habitat for the next 40 years, including effects of climate change. The model projected substantial reductions, limiting community access to moose in their traditional territory.
For Collins, the most valuable part of the internship experience was being able to use what she called a walking on two legs approach.
“It’s walking on the Western leg as well as the indigenous leg,” she said. “Finding an even ground to learn in a more holistic approach.”
Kateri Koster is now the Qwelmínte Secwépemc forestry strategic co-ordinator, but was also an intern in the 2019 cohort. She said that because it was the inaugural year for the internship, much of the work was focused on getting the program up and running.
“It was a lot of document development, drafting, work planning, co-ordinating the liaising between our Secwépemc communities,” Koster said.
She cited the breadth of the experience she received through the internship as being the greatest takeaway from her work.
“Coming into this work, you have to be able to sort of turn on a dime, pivot, often doing a complete 180 in terms of the direction we go,” Koster said.
Though the future is up in the air in the COVID-19 world, the plan is to continue the Qwelmínte Secwépemc internships and both Koster and Collins hope other Indigenous students will be able to have the same opportunities they did.
“It’s rare to be able to have the opportunity to work with such strong Indigenous leaders, not only in our organization, but also across our Secwépemc community,” Koster said. “It’s an incredible learning opportunity.”