Sharing Knowledge and Linking Science on the St. Lawrence River

By Karen Douglass Cooper, St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences

The 2018 St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences will pay homage to its history while looking toward the future when it hosts the 25th Anniversary Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River Ecosystem Symposium on May 30 and 31.

The conference began in 1993 in Cornwall, Ontario, (one year before the River Institute was founded) as a means of bringing scientists and communities together to discuss freshwater issues. Twenty five years later, river scientists and community members from Ontario, Quebec, Akwesasne, and New York will come together in Cornwall to revisit the original conference theme, “Sharing Knowledge – Linking Sciences.”

The theme celebrates the River Institute’s founding partners and neighbors, the Mohawks of Akwesasne, and highlights projects and programs that link ecosystem science and traditional ecological knowledge.

“Our collective responsibility to protect the environment is from an indigenous perspective and is laid out at the beginning of each conference with the ’The Words that Come Before All Else,’ which is the traditional Mohawk Thanksgiving Address,” said River Institute Executive Director Dr. Jeff Ridal.

Over the past two and a half decades, the River Institute has evolved into a unique nucleus for freshwater research, education and community engagement throughout the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River ecosystem. That uniqueness comes in part from its connection to community and a desire to develop an enhanced awareness of the value of traditional ecological knowledge by integrating it into scientific research. This integration plays a vital role on the upper St. Lawrence River.

River Institute Board Chair Walter Oeggerli says, “Our experience at the River Institute has been that the stories that define our history are important pathways to engage people in environmental issues and also serve to inspire scientific inquiry and research.”

Akwesasne River Institute
The Akwesasne and River Institute partners for FINS (Fish Identification Nearshore Survey) on the St. Lawrence River. Credit: River Institute

Over the course of two information-packed days, the 2018 symposium will feature three keynote speakers that exemplify scientific inquiry and community engagement.

On May 30, Community Science Day, Canadian explorer and Order of Canada recipient Dr. Geoff Green of Students on Ice and Canada C3 fame will join local high school students. He will speak on the epic 25,000 km Coast to Coast to Coast research and reconciliation expedition that he led along Canada’s coastline in 2017.

Canada C3 Polar Prince Akwesasne Geoff Green
Canada C3 and the Polar Prince Visits Cornwall and Akwesasne with Dr. Geoff Green, expedition leader Credit: River Institute

The next day will highlight freshwater research and remediation. Tony David, water resources manager with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe of Akwesasne and winner of the 2017 Environmental Champion Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, will discuss his work in the decommissioning and removal of the Hogansburg Dam. The first project of its kind for a Native American Tribe, the removal has opened up more than 500 miles of river and streams as spawning habitat for migratory fish.

Dr. John Smol, professor in the Biology Department at Queen’s University and Canada research chair in environmental change will round out the second day as a guest speaker. A co-director of Queen’s Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PEARL), Smol’s talk is titled appropriately enough, “Looking Back to Predict the Future.”

Ridal River Institute
Dr. Jeff Ridal is executive director of the River Institute. Ridal also serves on the IJC’s Great Lakes Science Advisory Board. Credit: River Institute

Karen Douglass Cooper is the communications/community outreach officer for the River Institute. Author of the second edition of the “Healthy Home Guidebook” and contributor to several freshwater resource publications, she also serves as coordinator for the Remedial Action Plan for the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall, Ontario.

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