By Mary-Claire Buell, Trent University

This is part of the Smart Project Series—stories published by Smart Great Lakes Initiative (SGLi) partners that explore current or future projects that sum up what it means to be “smart,” as established in the Common Strategy for Smart Great Lakes.

The Common Strategy is the key document of the SGLi and will be available for public comment Aug. 23-Sept. 24. Learn more and review the document.


As the health of the Great Lakes Region faces multiple challenges including climate change, invasive species, and pollution, it is important to be able to draw upon and learn from all available knowledge and expertise, including the First Peoples of the Great Lakes Basin including the Tribes in the United States, and First Nations and Métis peoples within Canada. In order to support respectful engagement and partnership, and a strategic approach to knowledge bridging or weaving, an ethical space must exist. Through approaches such as Two-Eyed Seeing or the two-row wampum framework, ethical space for engagement can be created. Through these approaches there is the opportunity to co-learn among Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge holders and practitioners. This co-learning will contribute to a greater understanding of the Great Lakes and both the changes occurring in these ecosystems and the needs of Peoples who rely upon them now and into the future.  The current Smart Great Lakes Initiative is lacking contributions from clear and strong Indigenous voices in the program. These voices will bring forward different priorities and approaches to understanding this ecosystem.

As the Smart Great Lakes Initiative seeks to enhance and expand capacity to collect, analyze, and communicate information about the Great Lakes, it is essential that we do this in an ethical way that creates and holds space for Indigenous communities, knowledge holders, and practitioners to contribute to a collective understanding of this ecosystem. To meaningfully create and hold space, it is first important to identify and understand what research and monitoring has been completed and is currently being conducted by Indigenous communities around the lakes, and what interests and priorities communities, Tribes, Indigenous organizations and Nations have. Through a literature scan and consultation with Indigenous communities, Tribes, organizations and Nations of the Great Lakes Basin, this project aims to identify ways in which to engage in collective efforts such as through an Indigenous-directed sister Smart Great Lakes initiative.

Led by Barbara Moktthewenkwe Wall and Dr. Chris Furgal of the Indigenous Environmental Institute at Trent University, and in cooperation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and partners, an environmental scan on recent and ongoing Indigenous-related research and monitoring projects and initiatives in the Great Lakes will be completed and informed through key-informant interviews with representatives of Indigenous Tribes, First Nations and Metis communities and organizations. This will help inform an understanding of current initiatives, interests, priorities and needs among Indigenous Peoples in the region regarding Great Lakes research and monitoring. Through consultation with these individuals, an assessment of interests in and needs for engagement in a collective Indigenous-directed sister initiative to the Smart Great Lakes Initiative will be conducted. Based on the results of this work, recommendations for future initiative planning and development will be identified.

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