Young Nature Leader Kristin Muskratt introduces a new generation to land teachings
Nature is in trouble, and we need all the help we can get to take on the big environmental questions facing us.
Young Nature Leader recipient Kristin Muskratt is making sure Indigenous youth are equipped with the traditional ecological knowledge we’ll need to move forward.
Muskratt herself is Anishinaabe-kwe. Growing up on Curve Lake First Nation, a community located north of Peterborough, she was exposed to traditional cultural teachings early.
But as a preteen, she said she began to lose touch with land teachings, especially since the education system didn’t emphasize outdoor experiences.
“I had to relearn those things when I hit 22 or 23,” she said. “Now five years later, I still feel far behind. I’m still so much on a learning journey.”
All teachings can be connected back to nature, according to Muskratt. For her, a focus on water teachings, including the need to protect water and its cultural connection to womanhood, was particularly powerful.
“That connection really pulled me in,” she said.
In her role at Trent University, Muskratt works for TRACKS (TRent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and Science) a youth program providing education for youth between the ages of six and 17.
The program explores Indigenous and western science as ways of understanding the natural world. In particular, youth explore complex environmental issues in part by learning about traditional knowledge.
Creating those connections depends on Knowledge Holders, Elders and other community leaders who carry traditional teachings and pass them on.
In May, Muskratt organized a “Land Based Storytelling and Sharing Panel” at Trent University with help from a grant from Nature Canada’s Women for Nature. The event had four panelists sharing their stories with around 50 Indigenous high school students.
Panelists included Anne Taylor and Jack Hogarth (two Knowledge Holders from Curve Lake First Nation) and Jazzmin Foster and Nihahsennaa Peters (two students from Trent who are also involved in the TRACKS program).
Together they answered questions to foster a discussion about relationships to the natural world, connection to language and the journey to rediscovering and reclaiming culture.
There were no one-minute answers–each panelist had different experiences to share.
“We had a really good level of engagement with questions and had students going up to the panelists and talking to them individually,” she said.
In particular, Muskratt said it was very important to have young people involved in the program at Trent to look up to as leaders. She wants younger people in the community to know that programs like the Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences are options.
“I want high school youth to be able to have those experiences with traditional teachings so they don’t go down the same path as I did [and have to catch up later in life],” she explained.
“I want them to know this knowledge is very important.”
Young Nature Leadership Grant is a program by Nature Canada’s Women for Nature initiative that seeks to encourage new ideas for nature. Young emerging leaders chosen from applicants across the country are given $1,000 to help bring their nature initiatives to life.