July 21st, 2024

‘Crown of the Continent’ conservation focus of upcoming environmental roundtable event

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 25, 2024.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Visitors take in the winter view of the Crowsnest River flowing under the frozen Lundbreck Falls. Conserving the ecosystem of the "Crown of the Continent" will be the focus of an environmental roundtable event next month at the University of Lethbridge.

In less than a month, environmental stewards from British Columbia, Montana, and Alberta will gather at the Science Commons on the University of Lethbridge campus for the 2024 Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent Annual Gathering.

The event, scheduled to take place Feb. 20 and 21, will host stakeholders to discuss the conservation of one of North America’s most important resources.

The Crown of the Continent refers to the ecosystem at the meeting point of Alberta, British Columbia, and Montana. The 73,000 square kilometre region includes a portion of the Rocky Mountains and two UNESCO world heritage – Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. Touted as among the most intact and diverse ecosystems, the jewel in the crown – or rather the crown itself as the name bears no association to any monarchy – is the mountain range that houses the headwaters of three river systems that feed the water supply of much of the continent.

Like all natural resources, the Crown of the Continent and its biodiversity is under the threat of climate change.

The upcoming gathering will welcome guests from both provinces and Montana and is organized in collaboration with Kainai Environmental Protection Agency and the Oldman Watershed Council.

The gathering intends to “focus on climate change and conservation, examining these crucial topics from both Indigenous and Western perspectives, with a special emphasis on reconciliation,” according to an event summary.

Featuring panel discussions and presentations from the Kainai Environmental Protection Agency- Mike Bruised Head, Leroy Little Bear of the University of Lethbridge, Ducks Unlimited, Piikani Nation Land Management, and Tyson Running Wolf of the Montana House of Representatives, among many others.

Executive Director of the Oldman Watershed Council, Shannon Frank says she is looking forward to hearing from Indigenous Leadership.

“We’re not hearing those voices as often as we should and there’s some really amazing work happening across the crown to restore iinnii (the buffalo,) to restore the land – the grasslands that support the iinii, the waterways.”

Noting the cultural significance of the land, especially the mountain range, in Indigenous culture, Frank says direct collaboration with Indigenous nations is critical to the environmental objectives.

“The Crown really tries to focus on that kind of grassroots community solution. They want that involvement from individual Indigenous people as well as the larger organizations like Chief and council or non-profit groups like the Kainai Ecosystem Protection Association that is becoming its own entity right now. My understanding is that it’s always been a really critical piece.”

Frank adds that the special relationship between Indigenous culture and the land teaches westerners a lot about living sustainably.

The annual conference alternates locations due to the COVID-19 restrictions has not been in Alberta since 2014 when it made its returned to Waterton Lakes National Park where the inaugural gathering took place in 2010.

“It’s really cool to see how culture and environment interrelate and, of course, with Indigenous communities they are directly tied together which is unique and special and I think we learn a lot in our western culture from that and how to live sustainably.”

The 2024 Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent is open to anyone interested in attending at tickets can be purchased through EventBrite. Donations to assist in covering costs for those with lower or on fixed incomes can also be made through the event listing.

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