Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe

Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe:
The last event was “Eco-Friend or Eco-Foe” which took place on Saturday, the second last day of the festival. Unfortunately, the weather forecast suggested rain, and the skies were cloudy most of the day. The workshop began with Carla Kennedy, a local First Nations scholar, telling of her experiences about her great grandfather and her grandmother and how they managed the prairies. Carla noted that the purposes for managing the prairie had modified from one generation to the other, and hence the practices had. Her great grandfather was still a part of the tradition of Frist Nations management – different areas of the prairies would be burned, early in the spring while the ground was still wet, and ground nesting birds had not yet nested. The purposes would have been multiple: pushing back the woody shrubs that could have taken over, and limited the grazing and food plants; rejuvenating prairie growth; killing ticks (!); limiting the fuel that could contribute to devastating prairie fires later in the season when the weather was dry. Carla’s grandmother lived with close neighbours in built homes. Fires would have pushed back the shrubs and trees, as well as controlling the fuel for potentially fatal grass fires. Also, the burning would release nutrients for her garden soil, as well as controlling for ticks and mosquitoes. Without Indigenous peoples managing our prairie ecosystems, likely this land would have looked very different (and perhaps less hospitable?) to white settlers. Indigenous peoples were necessary in the prairie ecosystem, and we have much to learn about living on and in this land from Indigenous peoples.

Although the weather was not conducive to a large turn out, we had about 8 to 10 people, and were able to identify and move many of our native plants from the area we had decided needed to be mowed and tilled, and covered with plastic to kill the weed seeds and rhizomes. About one third of the garden is in good enough shape as far as invasive species go that we can weed in amongst our valuable plants. Eryn Tomlinson presented on the invasive foes we have, one of the most worrisome being European buckthorn. Meewasin is going to return in late July or August and help us to remove them.

Eryn taught us about the integrated management plan that Meewasin has developed for maintaining the native prairie in their authority. Invasive exotics are removed by hand, through grazing (sheep and goats), controlled burns, and, when nothing else is working, strategic and careful use of chemicals. Grazing (by bison and pronghorn antelope) and controlled burns controlled native invasive plants in the past, and these methods would likely be all that was needed by Meewasin if exotic invasives had not been brought into the country.

About Janet McVittie

Faculty, Department of Educational Foundations College of Education, University of Saskatchewan Research interests: social and ecological justice, experiential and inquiry learning, assessment for learning.
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