The Kaska Dena nation has lived along the Liard River for thousands of years. They currently have an Indigenous Guardian Program called the Dene Nan Yedah program, which monitors moose, caribou, grizzly bear, fish, and protects high cultural use areas. Guardians act as the eyes and ears on their land, collecting important environmental data and enforcing traditional laws. Up until recently, the Dene Nan Yedah program did not include a water monitoring component.
On September 24/25, Living Lakes Canada trained the Dene Nan Yedah Guardian Program in the Environment and Climate Change Canada CABIN (Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network) protocol. The original training was scheduled to occur August 21/22, but was postponed due to the infringing fires, and the community was evacuated five days later. Community members were only able to return six days prior to the rescheduled training.
Although the area was severely affected, the Lower Post communities’ resilience pushed the course forward.
After the two-day field practicum, the Guardians – in collaboration with Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada – set up five CABIN stream assessment sites along the Alaska Highway from Lower Post to Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park.
The Environmental DNA (eDNA) benthic samples that were collected will be sent to the University of Guelph for meta barcoding analysis, which uses gene sequencing linked to DNA/RNA barcode libraries to allow for a faster, more complete profile of biodiversity content from very small samples. This is a made-in-Canada technology that is now moving beyond proof of concept to real world applications.
With the support of Living Lakes Canada and WWF-Canada, the Dene Nan Yedah program has now expanded to include water quality and benthic invertebrate monitoring, and this monitoring will provide adequate baseline knowledge to help ensure that developments are done in a way that does not compromise the wild status of the Liard River.
Traditional monitoring for benthic invertebrates is time consuming and costly, as it requires a taxonomist to analyze the samples – eDNA helps combat this issue. Living Lakes Canada is partnering with WWF- Canada and the University of Guelph to support a national network of community based monitoring programs and/or Guardians programs that utilize eDNA technology to improve the understanding of benthic invertebrate communities in Canada.
The Dene Nan Yedah water monitoring program is one of the first to be trained using this technology through this initiative. At this stage, sampling is done with eDNA technology and traditional sampling methods to ensure accuracy.
The Dene Nan Yedah program is being implemented by the Dena Kayeh Institute on behalf of Kaska Dena communities of Good Hope Lake, Lower Post and Kwadacha.
Living Lakes Canada will be hosting their next CABIN field practicum training with the Environmental Stewardship Initiative in Smithers, B.C. on October 11/12. The course is now open to community members who are interested in becoming certified in the CABIN protocol. The course is running as a Field Assistant level – training in data collection only; online modules can be completed up to 2 years after. For further information or questions about CABIN field practicums, email firstname.lastname@example.org.