Black River First Nation: A Decade of Climate Change Monitoring


The Black River First Nation is situated at the mouth of the Black and O’Hanly rivers on the East shore of Lake Winnipeg. The community is right on the southern edge of the Boreal Forest in Manitoba and because of its location, hunting and fishing have always been part of life for community members. The stability and protection of the environment and what it offers in terms of game, fish and medicinal plants, etc., is a major concern for the community. The effects of climate change on the environment both locally and globally are of interest to community members as it has a direct effect on their traditional activities.

Project Description

With this in mind, we facilitated the very first series of climate change monitoring workshops in Black River in 2012. Many of the community Elders, other community members and youth were involved in these workshops. The workshops were so successful and demonstrated the willingness of the Elders and other community members to learn about the effects of climate change, we held further workshops over the following two years (up to early 2015). These workshops were not just about bringing scientists in to talk about climate change, but were an exercise in learning from the Elders and what they had experienced over the years and comparing that knowledge to what the scientists had to say.

Since then, the Black River Community has supported workshops on various aspects of climate change in many such projects. It was determined that the younger generation should also be learning and recognizing the importance of monitoring and mitigating the effects of climate change. The local high school felt this was important also and with tremendous cooperation from the principal and science teachers, we involved the grades 9 and 10 science classes at the Black River Anishinabe School in our projects.


The students were involved in the following field work sessions:

Monitoring Invasive Species: Some of the various species that were monitored are Rusty Crayfish, Zebra mussels, etc. along the shore line of the Black River and the Eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg.

Monitoring a forest plot for changes over time: Data was collected in 2 forest plots near the school. Measurements were made in each 10-meter diameter plot. Ground vegetation was recorded, as well as the height, diameter, and overall condition of each tree in the sample plot. Students will monitor changes in the sample plot each year, and assess changes due to wind storms, ice storms, insects and disease, etc.

Monitoring Ice Thickness: Students were involved in drilling test holes throughout the ice on Black River, and measuring not only thickness, but also the snow cover itself, which has implications for how dense the ice has formed. The river itself is a transportation corridor for snowmobiles and other vehicles, so the information could be used to create awareness of safe travel.

Monitoring Snow Depth: Over the years, students collected data from the same location in the forest adjacent to the community. The 100 meter transect throughout the test site had 10 locations each spaced 10 meters apart. This data was shared with the Manitoba Conservation (Wildlife Branch) to assess the degree of winter kill in ungulate populations (deer and moose). Compared to communities further inland, the data clearly showed ‘lake effect’ snowfalls, which were about 20% higher than nearby communities further from the lake.

Monitoring Water Samples: Water samples were taken during summer and winter and tested for dissolved oxygen, oxygen saturation, and water temperature. These samples were compared to water samples taken from the community water treatment plant to show how clean the drinking water is compared to water taken into the facility from Black River. Monitoring dissolved oxygen is key to understanding why fish kills may become more common in a warming climate, since warm water holds less oxygen than cold water.

Monitoring the Monarch Butterfly: Black River science students built a pollinator garden to raise and release Monarch butterflies back into the wild. Monarch butterflies are a threatened species due to the increasingly challenging conditions along their migratory path because of climate change. Drought, ice storms, and other extreme weather events create havoc for Monarchs. Since Monarch larvae feed only on Milkweed, students transplanted this crucial species into the garden to create breeding habit.

Playing the “Carbon Game”: Students played a game in which they simulated carbon atoms. Various stations were set up around the room. At the shake of a dice, they traveled through the ‘carbon cycle’.  Some students ended up being ‘dissolved’ into ocean water, and from there taken into a calcium carbonate shell of a marine mollusk. Others were taken into a tree’s leaf where they were stored in wood fibers (and then subsequently released as the tree decayed). Students became keenly aware that carbon atoms enter and exit a vastly complex cycle, and that carbon from human sources i.e., combustion and industry, may not always be sequestered fast enough and that they contribute to greenhouse gas accumulation, triggering climate change.

In addition, a storybook was developed which is a summary guide to most of the climate change monitoring and related projects that the Black River Community has been involved with since 2012.

The accompanying video to the story, Indigenous Students Involved in Climate Monitoring, was created for our last workshop before the summer break for the students and demonstrates a few things related to climate change. First of all, it shows evidence of climate change impacts on the land, water and species of the Black River First Nation, such as fluctuations of the water levels of Lake Winnipeg and excessive shoreline erosion. It then demonstrates how Black River First Nation monitors climate change, by involving students in field research, where they take water samples, measure snow depth, assess ice thickness and measure trees to track long term changes to growth and productivity of the forest. The video also presents the various tools used to monitor climate change such as a remote weather station and drones. Lastly, the importance of having an Emergency Action Plan in place and kept up to date is emphasized in the video as there is only one way in and one way out of the community.

The knowledge that the students, as well as other community members have gained, will benefit the environment and will also allow the current membership to maintain the interest level in monitoring the effects of climate change in their area.