Cultural retreats provide learnings for a sustainable future

Sep 29, 2016

What does learning about Aboriginal culture have in common with working in an environmental field? For Syncrude’s environmental scientists, the two go hand-in-hand.

Members of Syncrude’s Environmental Affairs and Stakeholder Relations teams recently visited Fort Chipewyan for both the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Cultural Retreats.

Attendance at these cultural retreats demonstrates Syncrude’s commitment to Aboriginal Relations and allows for interactions with Elders in the community. Elders understand the land, provide historical knowledge and as part of the retreat, Syncrude employees get the opportunity to learn from their teachings.

“These cultural events are just an amazing experience and a privilege to attend,” says Jessica Piercy, Sandhill Fen Project Lead and Reclamation and Closure Research Site Team Lead at Syncrude. “We witness the knowledge and deep-rooted personal connection First Nations in this area have with the land. It’s extraordinary to see. It reminds me of the importance behind the work my team does. They're doing the scientific research to make sure the land we return is something we can all be proud of.”

Activities are held to teach different traditional components of the Cree and Dene cultures. Participants take part in programs like cultural crafts, food preparation - including fish drying - traditional games, language lessons and wildlife calls.

“One of the things that struck me after I attended the cultural retreat was how close the members are to the land and especially wildlife," says Ron Lewko, Senior Advisor, Integrated Planning.

Traditional knowledge from Elders is an important part of Syncrude's reclamation planning. Input received from Aboriginal people has been used to identify shrubs, trees and mosses that are indigenous to the region and have traditional uses or medicinal properties. It is not uncommon to see species like buffaloberry, rat root, green alder or pin cherry growing on our reclaimed land. The right mix of planning by environmental scientists and traditional knowledge from Elders continues to contribute to the success of Syncrude’s reclamation efforts.

To date, Syncrude has permanently reclaimed more than 3,500 hectares of land, including the planting of around 8 million trees and shrubs.