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In Their Own Words:
Reflections on Clear Seas’ Indigenous Internship Program

13 minute read

Clear Seas launched an internship program in 2021 to build respectful relationships with Indigenous communities by listening to and addressing priorities through research projects led by Indigenous post-secondary students.

“Indigenous-led research is a personal priority for me and is an important way for the Clear Seas team to drive towards meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous People. The Indigenous Internship Program is intended to build capacity within Indigenous communities by providing opportunities for the students to connect to the lands and waterways.This inaugural internship program was one of the most inspiring projects to work on in my career. I learned a lot from the communities, the interns, and the process. I am proud of the five Indigenous students who participated in the first year of the program with their whole selves bringing their passion, enthusiasm and traditional teachings to the forefront of their research.I would like to thank the Council of the Haida Nation, Malahat Nation, T’Sou-ke Nation, and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who took the initial step in working with Clear Seas and the interns to make this program a reality. It took additional time and we had to overcome barriers to have this led by the students and communities; but I am proud to say it was a successful program and I am honoured to witness the progress over the last year, and excited to see where the 2022 cohort will take us.”

– Sarah Thomas, Manager of Indigenous and Coastal Community Relations

sarah thomas


In this blog, we introduce three of the interns and their perspectives on the experience.

Health Impacts of Marine Shipping on Indigenous Communities: Tsleil-Waututh Nation – by Charity Champagne

My name is Charity Champagne, and I am Red River Michif and French on my Father’s side, and Red River Michif, Cree and Irish on my Mother’s side. I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, referred to as Treaty 6 and I am grateful to study and live as a visitor on the traditional and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. I am currently in my third year of university, in the Bachelor of Social Work program at the University of British Columbia, and will graduate in 2023. I believe in life-long learning, and when I’m not learning in school, then I’m learning from the land through my love for hiking, camping, swimming in the ocean, and connecting with friends in nature. My areas of interest include Indigenous health and social justice issues in Canada, more specifically, I’m interested in how Indigenous ways of knowing, living, and healing can inform policies and practices to build a more balanced and equitable world for all of us.

When I was offered the opportunity to learn and do research with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in the summer of 2021, I chose to examine the impacts of Marine Shipping in the Burrard Inlet on the health and well-being of the Tsleil-Waututh people. Due to the COVID pandemic, I understood that most of my time would be focused primarily on conducting a review of current literature and traditional stories related to the topic. I was gifted with access to a paper written by Kevin O’Neill, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose work “Unheard voices of Tsleil-Waututh Nation: Examining the x̌əʔθən (four) quadrants of the medicine wheel as a framework for increased public health of my community” influenced my approach to learning. Another highlight at the beginning of my research period in early May 2021 was a presentation by Dr. Andrea Reid of UBC called “Two-Eyed Seeing: Amplifying Indigenous Knowledges and Sovereignty in Research and Communication”, in which Dr. Reid tells the story of her personal, spiritual, physical, and academic process of conducting environmental research with an Indigenous community in Lake Superior and the many teachings she gained from the experience. According to Elder Dr. Albert Marshall, “Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw)” is “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing, and to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Reid et al. 2020).

My introduction to this perspective informed my approach to the research topic and pushed me to consider how my work would be of service to the community, and what it meant to ‘decolonize’ research. So, the process of correlating the impacts of the marine shipping industry to community and individual health was anything but linear. After spending a lengthy amount of time absorbing research articles and considering the impact of my questions on the community, I chose to use the medicine wheel as a framework to guide my learning. This process helped me to understand how easy a linear approach can overlook important perspectives; whereas a circular, wheel-shaped approach guided by land and community-based wisdom, storytelling, and tradition could quickly show me where my work required balance and point me to explore aspects I wasn’t considering.

The circular medicine wheel framework I developed included four circles and four quadrants. The inner-circle at the centre is where I placed the people of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The next outer circle included the Burrard Inlet and represented all the traditional and contemporary relationships and resources provided by the land, waters, and shoreline. The next circle held the marine shipping industry, including the ships, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and the Westridge Terminal. Finally, the outermost circle was the greater community surrounding the Burrard Inlet and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, including visitors living on Coast Salish territories, Government, policies, and institutions. Next, I divided the circle into four quadrants and explored the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of each circle’s relationship to the other. This process helped me deepen my understanding of community, health, research, and industry in unique ways. For example, I could see where traditional stories from Elders could inform western research, where industry was crowding out spiritual connection to the land and ceremony, and how the drive to meet the needs of capitalism is prioritized over the voices of the people. Essentially, a circular approach allowed me to quickly see where my work was out of balance. It was in this non-linear way, that my research came to evolve to be as much about developing a decolonizing framework for approaching science, as it did about understanding the relationship between shipping and health outcomes.

circular medicine wheel
The circular medicine wheel framework used and adapted by Charity as part of her research

This project showed me that the health of the Tsleil-Waututh people is and always has been directly related to the health of the land and waters, including foraging, hunting, fishing, and gathering food, traveling on the waters, breathing the air, and having space to gather for ceremonies and to build and strengthen relationships and community. So, ensuring that marine shipping in the Burrard Inlet is safe and sustainable is essential to the health and well-being of the Tsleil-Waututh people. Ultimately, this process showed me that how we define health and well-being is a subjective experience and can only be defined and led by the community. It has reinforced my belief in Indigenous-led research, which values storytelling as much as data, and considers a framework that centers wholeness over outcomes. I hope to continue this work over the upcoming summer, with more time spent on the land and with Knowledge Keepers in the community with the intention of grounding and deepening the project, and to eventually use it to bridge the innermost circle of community wisdom, to the outermost circle of policy change and sustainability.

Return of Clam Gardens in T’Sou-ke Nation Traditional Territory – by Cheyenne Williams

My name is Cheyenne Williams, and I am from the Quw’utsun Tribes, in Coast Salish territory of the central coast of Vancouver Island. My maternal grandmother is Nuu-Chah-Nulth, from Kayuquot, and on my father’s side, our family comes from Wales, England, Ireland, and Scotland. I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria, double majoring in Indigenous Studies and Environmental Studies. I arrived in the role of this internship as an Indigenous woman seeking to work with nearby nations toward food sovereignty, food sustainability and to support the resurgence of land and marine-based learning. What drives me in all the work I do is a desire to engage with and maintain Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

I am deeply proud of the richness of our teachings as Indigenous People, and I feel responsible for absorbing as much of our traditional ways as I can to better future generations. In my current capacity as one of the Indigenous interns, I have had the opportunity to work with the T’Sou-Ke Nation. The focus of my internship has been to assess the viability of reintroducing clam gardens into T’Sou-ke’s traditional territory. To do this, I have written a report for the nation that highlights the success of nearby nations in revitalizing their clam gardens while also conducting a cost-benefit analysis. The report considers the risks of coastal shipping on traditional food harvesting and potential barriers that might interfere with the process of reinstating clam gardens. This includes pollution from former nearby forestry sites, urbanization, and low marine water flows.

If you haven’t encountered a clam garden before, they are a form of mariculture that has been used from Oregon to Alaska for the last four to five thousand years, varying between nations. They are sometimes also referred to as raised beds, walled beaches, or clam beds. Of course, these are the English terms that describe the human-tended and intentionally altered rock walls for mariculture practices. Throughout Coast Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation’s territories and languages, the word or phrase used in each regional dialect varies as well, while consistently remaining linked to the place-based setting or action. For instance, “several Indigenous terms refer to clearing beaches associated with clam-digging, sometimes to create an intertidal wall” (Harper et al. 2005). In the Ahousaht dialect, the phrase would be t’iimiik, which means “something being thrown” or to “move aside rocks” (Lepofsky, D. et al., 2015). One of the many exciting details of this work is getting to see the similarity in food harvesting technology amongst coastal nations while also learning about the specific terminology that can’t exist without the place in which the language, people, and unique location where clam harvesting occurs.

The report explores the difference between clam gardens and non-walled beaches. In restored sites, clam gardens are two to four times more productive (Groesbeck, A. et al., 2014), increase the speed of shellfish growth rates, allow for longer harvesting times, and enhance the ecology and biodiversity by providing habitat to many other species such as urchin, octopus, sea cucumber, chitons, crabs and more (CGN Draft Guide). The common Indigenous worldview that taking care of the land so that the land takes care of you is evident in these reciprocal management relationships.

For nearly four decades, the T’Sou-ke Nation has been unable to harvest seafood in the Sooke Basin and Harbour because of contamination and pollution (Firelight Group, 2015). Findings from the Firelight Group (2015) report, which assesses the effects of the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Project, state that the ability to access foreshore and coastal harvesting of seafood and safe passage in the waters will be drastically compromised. Further, “T’Sou-ke Nation traditional marine resource knowledge and or environmental and cultural consequence rang[es] from medium to very high, largely because the project may have impacts on areas of high value, including areas that have been highly important for traditional marine harvesting activities, travel, and cultural activities for generations.” In short, the nation’s ability to maintain subsistence fishing and harvesting shellfish would be compromised, as indicated by the adverse residual effects of the proposed pipeline.

clam harvesting
For years, the T’Sou-ke Nation has been unable to harvest seafood, including clams, in the Sooke Basin and Harbour because of water pollution. Clam gardens are an important part of locally sourced traditional food.

With these considerations in mind, the T’Sou-ke nation will have a list of factors to weigh. Reintroducing clam gardens brings many opportunities to the Nation, including access to traditional food that is locally sourced. For Nation-members to engage with place-based learning, they will keep alive the traditional knowledge so greatly hindered by colonization, through disease, relocation onto reserve lands, and disconnection from traditional territories. This mariculture practice is appealing for the T’Sou-ke Nation. Further questions about how this can be an economically sustainable investment, where ongoing employment for nation members is provided, are yet to be answered. As T’Sou-ke is situated in a cooler climate than nearby nations, the territory is not at as significant a risk of suffering from heat domes which the rest of the province suffered from in the summer of 2021. This places T’Sou-ke in a unique position to partner with neighbouring nations and supply seafood when these nations cannot meet community needs. This project aims to expand and deepen ongoing relationships between T’Sou-ke and neighbouring nations.

This work has been truly fascinating and is full of opportunity and hope. If all goes well, we may see the return of clam gardens in T’Sou-ke territory in times to come. Our ancestors have always said that if the tide is out, the table is set, which is what we are working towards again.

Aquatic Invasive Species – Tunicates and Bryozoans in Haida Gwaii Waters – by K’aayhldaa Xyaalaas | Rayne Boyko

My Haida traditional name is K’aayhldaa Xyaalaas. I grew up on the islands of Haida Gwaii. From the time I was a young girl, I was fascinated with the ocean and all the living things within. I am very passionate about the marine environment and all it provides, including the traditional foods we are fortunate to harvest. This growing interest inspired me to study marine biology at Hawaii Pacific University, where I expanded my knowledge through western science. Throughout my studies, I have kept my cultural and traditional values close and made connections with my traditional knowledge, to the science I was learning.

On Haida Gwaii, tunicates have been the most abundant aquatic invasive species (AIS) to date. Tunicates often spread on the hulls of boats and shipping vessels. Their long-term effects are more well-known compared to other AIS in the area. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation began settlement plate monitoring, a process designed to monitor invasive tunicates consistently since 2014. I had the opportunity to be a part of this process for the 2021 collection, and this is what I based my research on. I worked under my mentor Stuart Crawford, Ecosystem-based management coordinator at the Council of Haida Nation.

I entered this research with the question: How are native tunicate colonies affected by the invasive tunicates? This simple question led to a very eye-opening experience, that connected not just native and invasive tunicates, but other invasive fouling species found in Haida Gwaii waters. This intrigued me more and allowed me to look at not just tunicates, but also bryozoans (another colonial marine invertebrate). Space and food competition are the greatest concern when it comes to new aquatic invasive species settling in a new area. Generally, invasive species are better competitors because they move in, expand, and usually their adaptability is stronger. The native species, although there are more currently, usually have a smaller realized niche compared to invasive species. My research involved comparing the invasive tunicate and bryozoan species with the native species and analyzing how the population evolved from 2014 through 2020.

invasive tunicates buildup
Invasive tunicates and other species build-up (bioaccumulation) on the pillars of a dock in Haida Gwaii, BC.

This research allowed me to expand my knowledge of aquatic invasive species in Haida Gwaii waters and assisted in spreading awareness within the communities affected by these invasive species. Unfortunately, these species cannot be eradicated from the affected areas, however they can be monitored and by bringing awareness to these species, we can mitigate the spread. It is important to know the dos and don’ts with these aquatic invasive species. Looking out for signage on wharfs or docks to know what they look like in the area and being aware that each piece can grow into a new colony, so do not scrape it off into the ocean. The only way to kill the tunicates and bryozoans is to dry them out for at least 48 hours.

Rayne Boyko
K’aayhldaa Xyaalaas (Rayne Boyko) at work deploying and collecting the settlement plates used to study the impacts of invasive tunicates on native tunicates colonies in the waters around Haida Gwaii, BC.

As a young Indigenous woman working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, this research internship was a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field. Being a part of this invasive species research on Haida Gwaii, has inspired me to continue to challenge the colonial ways of knowing which dominate the field and the systematic barriers that affect and silence Indigenous peoples. Connecting western science with Traditional Knowledge of an area including native flora and fauna is valuable and plays a large part in scientific advancement. In Haida culture a guiding principle, “Gina k’aadang.nga gii uu tll k’anguudang — seeking wise counsel. Haida elders teach about traditional ways and how to work in harmony with the natural world. Together we consider new ideas, traditional knowledge, and scientific information that allow us to respond to change in keeping with culture, values, and laws.”1 I keep this principle in mind while working in science, it serves as a reminder that we must embrace many ways of knowing to best understand and appreciate the natural world.

Going Forward

As we prepare to launch the 2022 cohort of Clear Seas’ Indigenous Internship Program, we will be looking for post-secondary students from across Canada to continue to lead this research in Indigenous communities. Our goal is to support and expand the program to increase the participation of Indigenous communities and to provide a holistic approach that provides the necessary support for the interns. If you are interested in receiving information on the 2022 edition of the Internship Program, please email


1 Gwaii Haanas. (2018). Gwaii Haanas Gina’Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan. Parks Canada.

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