Telling the story of the Grand River

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

By Hannah Anderson, Course and Research Assistant

During the Winter 2022 Global Engagement Seminar (GES), “Water in the World: Environment, Knowledge, Ethics, and Practice,” I have worked as the Course and Research Assistant and mentored the undergraduates who represent five Waterloo faculties. As we prepare for the GES Summit on April 4 to showcase the term’s work, I would like to share a little about my experience with the seminar.

Specifically, I would like to focus on a project that is helping to tell the story of the Grand River through maps. This experience has been one of collective creativity fostered by caring and open people.

I have been taught that we all come from water. Water is nourishing and water is life. Participation in any focused study of water is necessarily community-focused, self-referential, and reflective because it is a study of ourselves. To partake in a seminar or project that focuses on water and how we come to know and interact with water requires humility. For these reasons, forming collaborations around water is special.

One student project in the GES this term started with a conversation with Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill at McMaster University. Dr. Martin-Hill is one of the invited Jarislowsky Fellows in the course, and in our earliest conversations, she challenged us to think about what we, as people with immense resources, could contribute to existing local and regional projects around water. What emerged from this conversation was a beautiful and challenging collaboration with the Ohneganos project and Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy. With this invitation and the welcoming and inspirational leadership of staff from the STEAM Academy, four UWaterloo students have been working with arts and learning strategies students from STEAM Academy to develop maps that share parts of the Grand River’s cultural and ecological story.

This specific student project is one part of a much larger story-telling and Indigenous mapping endeavour – Ohneganos. It is exciting to see how the project has grown over the past three months, and will continue to grow as part of a larger collaborative mapping effort.

Collaboration is a challenging subject to talk about because, in some contexts, it has become a buzzword and lost its meaning. The concept is simple and important: collaboration is about working together to create something. Every new collaboration is unique because the practice of creating is shaped by the particular goals and perspectives of the people involved; collaborations only exist through unity. This particular collaboration is dynamic. This project is youth-oriented and learning-focused. Everyone approached the project with openness and enthusiasm, which allowed for reciprocity and adaptation as we plotted a course forward.

The project is founded on the interests and goals of the students involved. The collective goal for this project has been on learning – learning about the Grand River, practicing new skills, and working with new people in creative ways. The STEAM students and UW students in this project have demonstrated their remarkable skills in a space that was centered on openness to sharing and responding to the needs of one another. The maps that are being created are alive because of the students’ listening, reading, writing, drawing, and photography. It is our sincere hope that the relationships and partnerships that started with this course will continue and grow.

I am humbled to have been asked to share my experience with the Water in the World seminar, and I thank you for following my words. If you take anything from this piece, I hope it is this: the strongest collaborations are made by caring people; the work of students and educators who care about knowledge, a river, and the complexity of water is proof of this. Nia:wen.

Please join us on April 4 for the Global Engagement 2022 Desmarais Family Summit: Water in the World.

About the Author: Hannah assists with instruction in the Winter 2022 session of the Global Engagement Seminar: Water in the World: Environment, Knowledge, Ethics, and Practice. She grew up in the agricultural area of the Aspen Parkland-Boreal Forest transition zone in Saskatchewan, an area of Canada that is at once dominated by human-modified landscapes and is shaped by rivers, wetlands, and boreal lakes. Her post-secondary educational background is in biology (think aquatic, fish, and boreal plant ecology), philosophy, and knowledge integration. Hannah is interested in the philosophy of biology, collaboration, and understanding how different knowledge systems work together.