Tlicho Summer Student Research Assistant Program 2013

Getting a chance to see the Barrenlands is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many.  Imagine spending a month there.  This summer, two Tłı̨chǫ high school students had the opportunity to work alongside researchers up at ENR's Tundra Ecosystem Research Station at Daring Lake, 300 km north of Yellowknife.

With funding from the Aurora Research Institute, the WRRB and ENR collaborated on putting together a summer student program to involve Tłı̨chǫ students in research projects underway at Daring Lake.  Working as research assistants, students experience what it's like to live and work at a remote field research station on the Barrens.  But they're also picking up fieldwork training and some great life experience that may inspire their future career and education choices.

Izaak Wedzin is back in Behchokǫ̀ now after spending the month of July at Daring Lake--and Brandon Zoe, who was there in August, has just finished his work term and is back home.

For Izaak, one month on the tundra was one of the best things he's experienced.  Once seen, it's a landscape not easily forgotten.  The Barrenlands are a wide-open, treeless tapestry of textures and colours--clear blue lakes, tundra blooming with tiny plants, and undulating rocky ridges.  It's a place whre you can see a fox up close and its kits, as Izaak did (see his photo in the Photo Gallery below)--or a grizzly, at a greater distance but close enough that Izaak and his fellow hikers had to change their direction to avoid the bear getting wind of them!  But the Barrenlands are also a unique ecosystem--and a good place for climate change studies. 

This year's summer students worked alongside researchers from Trent University and Carleton University who are at Daring Lake "observing the tundra carbon cycle in a changing climate".  Daring Lake is one location in a global network of research sites that scientists are monitoring to better understand any impacts climate changes might have on carbon cycle processes.

The summer students assisted researchers in the field by sampling vegetation and microbial communities and taking measurements of photosynthesis and respiration--and in the lab by preparing samples for examination under microscopes and by drying plant samples for later analysis.

As well as helping university researchers out in the field and in the lab, Izaak and Brandon participated in ENR's Tundra Science and Culture Camp.  Over the course of 10 days, they studied a wide variety of topics including geology, archaeology, plants, birds, caribou, grizzly bears, and traditional knowledge--and learned how these subjects interrelate in a tundra environment.  Each student also completed a collection project of their choice and an individual science project with the assistance of science mentors.  Izaak collected tundra plants such as Labrador Tea and researched their medicinal properties and use in traditional Tłı̨chǫ culture.  He also learned about traditional Tłı̨chǫ drum-making.  Brandon collected tundra berries and examined how vegetation, soil temperature and moisture changed along a downward slope into a small pond.  Take a look in our Photo Gallery below for photos showing activities our summer students were involved in --from learning how to make dry meat to how to pan for diamonds (or at least indicator minerals that might indicate the presence of diamonds!) to how to throw an atl-atl.  It turns out that an atl-atl was an ancient spear-thrower, used by hunters in North America for 10,000 years.   Photos are courtesy of Stephanie Yuill, ENR.

One of the most memorable experiences at the Science and Culture Camp was the harvest of a bull barren-ground caribou and all the learning activities that followed.  WRRB Board member Archie Wetrade was one of the elders who participated in the Camp as an instructor.  He showed the students  how to wrap and tumpline the caribou and how to identify the different parts of the caribou.  Students also learned how to cut and hang dry meat and had a chance to taste parts of the caribou they may not have before--the eyeball, brain, marrow, ribs, and boiled nose and jawbones.  Elders prepared dry meat right at the camp--another taste treat! 

The Tłı̨chǫ Summer Student Research Assistant Program is planned as a multi-year program so next year, two more high school students will have an opportunity to be hired as research assistants up on the tundra.