2021 ILRM Conference: Our Thoughts and Gratitude

The Adopt-A-Pond (AAP) Team was honoured to virtually attend the annual Indigenous Lands and Resource Management Conference, hosted by Magnetawan First Nation and the Georgian Bay Biosphere. This conference took place from April 6th to 8th, and focused on land management, species-at-risk conservation, ecology, and traditional land use and restoration. 

On April 6th and 7th, presentations were given by First Nations individuals and partners as well as a special keynote by Dr. Jesse Popp. Our team particularly enjoyed the Roads in the Biosphere presentation from Tianna Burke and Jenna Kentel due to the similarities in monitoring initiatives that AAP carries out. The presentations we heard at the conference will facilitate ideas and discussion for future projects with AAP and encourage reflection on how to implement and pay respects to Indigenous Knowledge in our current and future projects.

One of our current projects is the Blanding’s turtle head-starting project. We are thrilled to have both  Magnetawan First Nation and the Georgian Bay Biosphere as partners on this project, where we work to reintroduce juvenile Blanding’s turtles into the restored wetlands of Rouge Urban National Park. To do this, we have permits to collect Blanding’s turtle eggs from nest sites in central Ontario. The eggs are then incubated at the Toronto Zoo until they hatch, and the hatchlings are raised at the Zoo for 2 years before being released into the wild. The ultimate goal of this project is to restore a historic population of Blanding’s turtles in the GTA!

Donnell Gasbarrini, Adopt-A-Pond Coordinator, collecting eggs for the Blanding’s turtle project. We collect eggs in Central Ontario, not far from the Georgian Bay area.  

On the final day of the conference, April 8th, all participants were invited for a group conversation with the panelists which gave an opportunity for networking and discussion. The AAP team joined a break-out room focused on discussion of youth engagement and opportunities in connecting conservation and Traditional Knowledge. This discussion was pertinent as we have three newly hired Field Technicians on our team. 

The following are a few words from some of our team members regarding their thoughts on the conference: 

“This was my third year attending this conference, and once again I left with more knowledge and a greater respect for the land and water than I had going into it. The welcoming community and eagerness from all who were present to share results and learn from one another creates an enriching space that I am fortunate to be included in. Meetings like these support me in my ongoing journey to be aware, respectful, and inclusive of the sacred relationships between Indigenous Peoples and the land, water, and animals.” 

  • Donnell Gasbarrini, Adopt-A-Pond Coordinator

“We wanted staff, especially the Technicians, to attend so they could see the work that is being done by First Nations communities and gain a better understanding of the benefits of Indigenous partnerships and incorporating Indigenous Knowledge in conservation. All of the staff have different educational and experiential backgrounds, so we wanted to ensure that we expose them to these learning opportunities in case they hadn’t had them previously. It was also great timing that it was early in their contracts! As a First Nations biologist, having staff that are enthusiastic about these learning opportunities is important for me and helps to create a safer workplace that supports diversity and acceptance.”

  • Megan Young, Adopt-A-Pond Wildlife Biologist

“Due to scheduling, my first day working at the Toronto Zoo was during day 1 of the Magnetawan Conference. As it turned out, this was a fantastic opportunity to introduce me to the position. As a Métis biological science graduate, I appreciate any opportunity to connect my Indigenous heritage and love of conservation science. Although I’ve heard of conservation scientists/companies involving indigenous communities, it is fantastic to see these projects in detail and acknowledge traditional Indigenous lands and ecological knowledge.” 

  • Christine Drader, Turtle Island Conservation (TIC) First Nations Conservation Technician

“During my undergraduate studies I took a few Indigenous courses and remember those being my favourite because I learned the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), read books written by Indigenous authors, and watched presentations by Knowledge Holders. Being able to participate in this conference has shown me how these theories in the classroom are actively being used for current conservation projects including my new job at Adopt-A-Pond.”

  • Courtney Leermakers, Adopt-A-Pond  Wetland Conservation Technician

“It was nice to hear positive presentations on how Indigenous communities and Indigenous Knowledge are being incorporated into conservation research. It was also a good reminder for us to actively reflect on how we can improve this within our own work. I want to do better at acknowledging the Indigenous lands that we are lucky enough to conduct field research on. I am grateful to the Toronto Zoo for having the Turtle Island Conservation (TIC) program in place. Adopt-A-Pond and TIC work hand-in-hand, giving us a diverse and well-rounded work experience.”  

  • Lisa Browning, Adopt-A-Pond Wetland Conservation Technician

We are very happy to support our partners, including Magnetawan First Nation, Shawanaga First Nation, and Georgian Bay Biosphere, and are proud to be partnering with these organizations on reptile conservation. Thank you and congratulations to all the speakers and organizers involved in the conference. Also, a special thank you to Christine and Hilton King for sharing their traditional stories and knowledge, and for performing the beautiful water ceremony.