Prince Albert (Rural Roots Canada)– The Bridge To Land Water Sky project continues its work as Canada’s only Indigenous-led living lab in northern Saskatchewan.

The five-year project being led by the Mistawasis Nêhiyawak and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen climate resiliency by reimagining a farming system where farmers and First Nations work towards a common goal of improved livelihoods and productive, biodiverse, climate-resilient farmlands.

Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a special advisor to Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, says their main focus is on the human aspects of agriculture.

“Especially our relationships with producers and those in the agricultural industry, to look at new ways of doing things to better protect the land and the soil for future generations,” Johnston said.

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He adds many people were living on the Great Plains, in what we now call North America, providing for themselves and surviving in what could sometimes be a very harsh climate.

“Our ancestors needed to have an intimate relationship, understanding, and respect for land, water, and everything that it provides for us.”

Johnston says that his grandfathers were still successfully doing this in the early 1900s, but something has been lost since then, and they are working to get it back.

“We’re looking to revive that same understanding, respect and appreciation of land, water, sky, and everything it provides for us in our 21st-century thought and action.”

The Mistawasis Nêhiyawak say the historical marginalization of Indigenous people from farming in the region has led to current agricultural practices on First Nations lands primarily determined by lease agreements with non-Indigenous farmers, often with little guidance or input from the First Nations.

Thousands of acres of band-managed reserve lands are farmed by non-Indigenous grain producers. It is the hope the Bridge To Land Water Sky project will restore marginal and unproductive lands on and off the reserve into productive rangelands.

This will be coupled with livestock management practices that will maximize carbon storage to create spaces that will allow for the reintroduction of bison populations.

Johnston is hopeful the living lab will become a vehicle in which they can encourage their children to become involved in agriculture again and become farmers.

The Saskatchewan Aboriginal Land Technicians, North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, Redberry Lake Biosphere Region, University of Saskatchewan, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are also partners in the initiative.