The IJC has added four new seats to its Red River Board, and appointed four new members to bring their knowledge, experience and Indigenous perspectives to the board’s work.
The new members are Melissa Hotain, April Poitra-Walker, Dr. Annette Trimbee and Benjamin Yawakie. They bring considerable background and expertise in topics such as aquatic ecosystems, water management and resiliency, community resiliency and engagement, and policy and engineering.
While each member has their regular employment or “day job,” when joining an IJC board, members serve in their personal capacity and are not representing any specific entity, organization or government.
Hotain works as the intergovernmental affairs director of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, which has traditional territories across the Red River basin and its surrounding areas. She holds a diploma in environmental science from the University of Manitoba, and during her career has worked on a variety of issues related to water. These include long-term water management and protection, water-related research projects, and working to collectively advocate and advance water as a human right.
“(Water) … continues to weave its way through both my professional and personal life,” Hotain said. “I look forward to serving my term with open communication, sharing knowledge and making effective contributions to the (Red River) board.”
Poitra-Walker is a professional engineering consultant with A. Walker Consulting, as well as a planning commissioner for the city of West Fargo, North Dakota. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she grew up in the Turtle Mountains where the Pembina River, Assiniboine River and Devil’s Lake basins meet. Poitra-Walker holds a bachelor’s from North Dakota State University in civil engineering and is a certified flood plain manager and engineer. She has spent much of her career as a civil engineer, “caring and planning for a portion of the Red River basin and its inhabitants.” She has extensive experience with waterworks, post-flood restoration, community engagement and emergency response.
“I have had the opportunity to witness first-hand the work that grows out of the thoughtful coordination between communities and (Indigenous) Nations that share responsibility for this water body,” Poitra-Walker said. “I am happy to continue to be included in this work. Miigwetch” (which means thank you in the Ojibwe language).
Trimbee holds a Ph.D. from McMaster University in aquatic ecology and is president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, having previously served in the same role at University of Winnipeg. A Métis citizen, Trimbee’s family roots are in the Red River basin on both sides of the Canada-US border. She grew up in Winnipeg, spent much of her early career working in water management, and brings to the board a wealth of knowledge and experience on scientific, social and community topics.
“The issues in the Red River Basin are complex and solving them requires us to approach things differently,” Trimbee said. “There are many things we need to unlearn and learn anew. It starts with a love of place and recognition that our individual and collective choices have impacts beyond our line of sight and time horizons. Respecting Indigenous rights and ways of knowing is an act of reconciliation and a gift to the Red River Basin itself.”
Yawakie holds a bachelor's in statistics and chemistry, and a bachelor’s in biology. He is a citizen member of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, with community resilience, data and water management and diversity experience in the Red River basin, where the lay of the land lends itself to frequent flood risk. Yawakie is a citizen of the Pueblo of Zuni and descended from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and White Bear First Nations.
“Becoming a member of the International Red River Board is an honor as I consider the meaning of home and ensuring sustainability and stewardship of these waters and lands for future generations,” Yawakie said. “I look forward to working with members of the (board) to continue the work of the IJC to incorporate indigeneity in the processes that regulate and ultimately protect the Red River basin and her inhabitants.”
The Red River Board informs the IJC of activities within the basin that may affect transboundary water flows, water quality and ecosystem health in both the river and its tributaries. It also monitors the implementation of flood-related recommendations made by the IJC. Board members are appointed by IJC Commissioners.
Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.