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“Knowing The Ways”…Lessons from Grandmothers

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2021

The following article was submitted by Dean Robertson, a Fisheries and Wildlife Management Graduate from the Natural Resources Management Technology (NRMT) Program at the University College of the North (UCN).

To say the least…the past few years have been a journey in self-discovery and self-improvement as ‘education’, is said to be one of the great equalizers! As such, some paths in life find us … before we find them, and that is usually because we are too busy looking ahead instead of looking around! When you begin to look around, you realize what is essential, what makes you smile, what makes you sad, and what things make you feel the things you feel.

Somewhere between these statements above lies the answer to yet another question. A question first posed to me by Dr. Jeff Stepaniuk, my Water Resources instructor.

Who I am is not important, but where I was born, and where I am from is. I was born in a small community in central Manitoba, just 50 or so kilometres north of Lake Winnipeg. Growing up so close to the water, I have borne witness to many changes socially, economically, and ecologically, but in those moments, I never gave them a second thought. It was not until I grew academically, spiritually, and culturally that I began to develop an appreciation of where I really came from.

Growing up, life was not all rainbows and lollipops. I came from a broken home. My parents had their demons, which led to disagreements which led to me moving back and forth between the city and northern bush life after my parents went their separate ways. My home was broken in the sense my parents no longer lived together, but my ‘sense of home’ was far from broken.

Being from a small community, I was fortunate I had two sets of beautiful grandparents that always helped me and made sure I did my best to live a positive life. And, like anyone else, my life choices and the roads I walked did have their trials and tribulations. Starting a family, losing a family, and rebuilding a bigger family. I have worked for Manitoba Hydro, earned a Red Seal as I made my way through an Automotive Apprenticeship, drove a water and sewer truck, fought fires, and taught automotive mechanics in a College setting. I have also been elected a Councillor in my town’s local government. Above all, I was gifted five beautiful children who taught me what it meant to be a good Father and strive to be a little bit better than I was the day before.

No matter the path I was on however, I always felt disconnected and as if something was missing. Life’s ups, downs, and sideways took me for a ride, but the road always led back to my home community, where I grew up ‘by the water’ and felt the most secure and connected to Mother Earth. I grew up tough, but I grew up on the land and the river and felt at home.

Growing up I never realized what I had, right in my back yard! Vast natural resources clean water—food for the mind, body, and soul right outside my door. The lessons I learned about life on the land that I previously thought were chores for punishment, now gave me more than I had ever realized back then. The vast ‘knowledge of my grandmothers’ taught me everything. For instance, where to pick berries, how to set snares for snowshoe hare and muskrat, cooking lessons, and taking what I needed but nothing more. What we caught was always a gourmet meal in the making!

In 2010, I moved back home to Norway House and took up new hobbies with old friends. Life was starting to make sense again. I felt grounded like I did when I was a child. I was hunting and fishing, spending a day or three on a trap line, being as much help as I could all the while learning. I was older now, and I knew it was time to reflect and look around and take in the changes. Not only in the landscape but also the changes inside me. The changes that come with self-discovery and raising children, and the longing to teach my children the lessons I learned. My hope is that one day my children will also “Know the Ways.” Lessons about hard work and determination, and how we were placed on the planet to take care of it and make a better place for future generations.

Now, I think about the days gone by and how my journey has led me full circle. I am once again back on the land with an abundance of additional knowledge thanks to my grandmothers and UCN.

When I think back to when I was a boy, and when I spent day after day in the summer playing in, on, and around the water, it was as easy as leaning over the bank to have a drink of clean water. I remember catching fish just down the bank from my grandmother’s house, going for boat rides every day, and being able to pick up and go camping on a whim. The sad part of thinking about it now that I am older and realize what I had, those things are not the same, and these are different times.

That same water today, is no longer safe to drink unless treated. The once clear and clean water is now so murky and full of algae, you can barely see through it. As I have become older, I realize the beautiful world of days gone past are now looking a little tarnished, unappreciated, and overall, looking less than they used to be. This journey of discovery eventually made me realize what I needed to be doing now.

On top of being a father and young grandfather, I need to make sure that what I had growing up will not be lost and that I can give back to the place that shaped me and led me into the field of Natural Resource management. Being able to give back and protect what protected me the most, would allow future generations to experience nature for themselves rather than in some tik tok video or google search. I want to pass on the importance of what our natural surroundings have to offer and the importance of sustainability as it relates to the environment and memories.

In life, what I hope is that my children realize the importance of sustaining and respecting what nature has to offer. I dream that I can pass everything I’ve learned to my children, and the lessons they learn will follow them forever. I hope they someday realize this is because of nature and the natural resources around us that we can live and thrive on this planet. If we don’t know how to appreciate what our natural environment has to offer, the wonder of nature will cease.

This is why I put pen to paper, as these reflections led me back to that initial question Dr. Jeff Stepaniuk asked during my first weeks in the Natural Resource Management Technology Program. That question was, “Wat-er we doing here?”

At the time, the best answer I could offer was a shrug of my shoulders! Now a few years later facing my last few days at UCN, that answer now comes from my heart, and it is to leave this world better than I found it.

If I were to truly stand back now and think about successful prospects for a more comprehensive answer to the question Jeff asked, as a technician the result would be much more encouraging and go something like this … both cooperation and foresight are required! And, given the complexity of the numerous interlocking issues facing our children, foresight demands our ability to identify and gather great quantities of relevant information … from our teachers, our grandparents … and our children … simply to catch a glimpse of ‘value’ … and the value of safeguarding nature.

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