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In 2004, a group of scientists, researchers, and school officials met to discuss the issue of water quality. At the time, I was the Director of Education at Big Island Lake Education. The chief and council had approached me to look at the water issue in Big Island Lake, because we were beginning to see a number of problems, such as, large number of parasites in the fish, water levels were dropping, and high levels of contaminants being found at the source of the communities drinking water. Concerns were expressed about mercury levels increasing because of the clear-cutting by the pulp and paper industry. Apparently research has shown that when an area of forest is completely cut down, this allows for rain and runoff to flow more easily into streams and rivers causing more mercury to gather in larger waterways. All these concerns were expressed to me, and they wanted something done about it. So I called together a few researcher friends that I knew, and eventually a group of people came together to discuss putting together a research team.

One thing that was made very clear at the outset was that none of this research was to be used for legal battles, otherwise some of the funding sources would have to leave the discussions and research immediately. The vision for this group was to create awareness about water issues within a community, but also provide hands-on experience for students that might stir an interest in scientific research. Currently, we have very few First Nations scientists. We want to create an interest in students about the importance of science through the research of water quality.

It's been a few years since we first started this project. We received some grant money to do the initial research that justifies applying for further funding. The group has published an academic article, and completed a variety of presentations to groups about the work that is being done.

The project has expanded beyond just Big Island Lake to Hatchet Lake, Red Earth, and Sturgeon Lake, and is currently in discussions with a First Nations community on Vancouver Island. Even though this is our target group, we are not limited to these areas. If there are other communities that would like to join, please contact us. We would love to discuss this project further. It really is important work educating our young people about the value of water.

Vince Hill