New Brunswick

Wolastoqey students learn 'two-eyed seeing' approach to marine conservation

New to her role as an environmental technician in Bilijk First Nation, formerly Kingsclear, Summer Saulis wants to see her ancestors reflected in the field of environmental conservation. She is now graduating from a program that aims to do exactly that.

Members and organizers want to see greater Indigenous representation in environmental fields

Woman with long dark hair and glasses, wearing grey and white plaid shirt, smiling looking off to the side of camera
Summer Saulis was new to the material, but she was able to bring the Wolastoqey language to the program after having recently completed an immersion course. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Summer Saulis spent a chilly recent morning observing seagull behaviour on a quiet Saint John boardwalk surrounded by a salt marsh.

Armed with binoculars and notepads, she and 16 others recorded the gulls' behaviour, noting they were calm, fed and undisturbed.

The observations made at the Irving Nature Park were part of a field observation exercise on the last day of a two-week course that fuses marine ecology studies with Indigenous elder experience.

"I definitely want to know more about the world around me through my ancestors' perspective and modern perspective," Saulis said. 

What Saulis described is called the "two-eyed seeing" approach, which aims to tackle environmental issues using the benefits of both perspectives.

New to her role as an environmental technician in Bilijk First Nation, formerly known as Kingsclear near Fredericton, Saulis wants to see her ancestors reflected in the field of environmental conservation. 

Group of people, men and women of varying ages, some sitting and some standing, smiling at camera.
The program participants graduated after 60 hours spread over 10 days on Bilijk First Nation near Fredericton. (Submitted by Leif Helmer )

It's one of several themes explored in the course taught at Bilijk as a part of the Building Environmental Aboriginal Human Resources program, to inspire Indigenous people to pursue work in environment-based fields. 

The program gave the students the chance to listen to elders talk about connection to the land while teaching them methods of environmental data collection.

WATCH | Crash course trains Indigenous people in marine ecology:

Why Wolastoqi people from 4 communities are collecting marine data on Saint John salt marsh

4 months ago
Duration 2:24
Seventeen people from Bilijk, Woodstock, Oromocto and St. Mary’s First Nations spent two weeks learning a combination of marine ecology blended with elder-inspired Indigenous perspectives.

Saulis, who is also a Wolastoqey language holder, said she appreciated the course trying to bring Indigenous perspectives to the forefront, although she found a language element missing.

"I was seeing opportunities where there could have been chances to say, 'Hey, this is where we used to pick medicines or this is how you say that in our language,'" she said.

Saulis took it upon herself to bridge that gap, bringing her knowledge of the language to every class and adding it to the course as it progressed.

"For me, the language is a big piece for us to make that connection." 

Bringing community voices and solutions

The environmental program is offered by the non-profit Environmental Careers Organization Canada and is the first to be delivered in New Brunswick focused specifically on marine conservation.

Leif Helmer, the program's facilitator, said it is important that courses like this one are available within Indigenous communities. 

"There's a lot of environmental and marine and conservation-related needs in community," he said. "And there's a desire to solve those problems."

Helmer's delivery of the subject matter was intended to be as holistic in scope as possible.

Man wearing orange plaid shirt and grey baseball cap standing outside looking away from camera - neutral expression on his face.
Leif Helmer says 'two-eyed seeing,' the blending of Indigenous and modern scientific approaches, is important because it includes voices which have historically not been respected. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

"We looked at the major stressors on the ocean environment," Helmer said. "Then we looked at some pressures or drivers that are creating problems.

"Then we started moving into how we address those issues … bringing community solutions" to the problems.

The "two-eyed seeing" approach brings inclusion to the table, he said.

"People who are affected most have a knowledge system that's not necessarily been respected or mainstream for a long time," he said. 

Another participant, Al Francis, was an environmental technician for seven years before being laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Francis, who has been doing coastal surveys for nearly a decade, was happy to learn there are people who think and feel similar to him about marine conservation.

He says it's important to understand the natural environment to preserve it.

"We have to know what's there. You know, we have the trees, we have the flora and the fauna." he said. "We have to know what we're protecting, whether that be frogs, lizards, salamanders, fish, birds, everything."

"If we don't know what's there, then what are we protecting?"

Creating a pipeline into a growing sector

Nisa Kennedy served as project co-ordinator with ECO Canada and to her, there is a bigger picture.

"The livelihood of [a lot of Indigenous communities] is environmental work," she said. "It's fisheries." 

Two men with others in the background standing with sides to the camera and wearing dark jackets and baseball caps, with one in sunglasses. One is wearing binculars, holding a notepad and pointing at something in the distance.
Al Francis, an avid fisherman and no stranger to coastal surveys, was happy to take part in a program where he got to interact with like-minded people. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

She says that short programs like this one help contribute to long-term development.

"There's such a high demand for environmental work," Kennedy said. "You need to have Indigenous people within the workforce. So this is another way to kind of create that pipeline for Indigenous people to tap into the environmental sector."

The sector, Saulis said, needs Indigenous perspectives.

"We're building up the capacity in our own communities to put ourselves into these rooms with these people that are  managing the environment," she said.

"We should have a say in what goes on with our resources and our territories, you know, and we need the capacity and the knowledge and the skills to get there."

Saulis is happy with what she took away from and what she added, as a speaker of the Wolastoqey language, to the program. She hopes to see more like it in the future. 

"On a bigger scale," she said. "With more representation. I hope it grows as much as possible in a good way."


Nipun Tiwari


Nipun Tiwari is a reporter assigned to community engagement and based in Saint John, New Brunswick. He can be reached at

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