The 2023 Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program Summit

Published by CPAWS Southern Alberta. Read the original blog.

Community, connection, inspiring, empowering, informative, insightful and belonging — these were all words used to describe the recent three-day Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program (CWSP) regional summit that was held on the Land of the Buffalo in Kananaskis in February of 2023. 

As the winds howled and the sun set over the mountains, the participants of this year’s CWSP presented the community service projects they’ve been working on for the past 6 months, which aim to advocate, educate, and help restore our natural places. They all shared a common message of generating awareness of the issues affecting Southern Alberta’s environment. It was a joy to see the enthusiasm with which they presented their personal campaigns — shining a spotlight on issues like endangered grasslands and urban sprawl.

After a well-earned break, the final part of the evening included an immersive production where youth were introduced to the wonderful, magical, and hilarious world of theatrical interpretation, where laughs, songs and jokes could be heard as the moon shone brightly and the evening came to an end. 

A crisp Saturday morning was the perfect platform for a forest treasure hunt which bore many gifts, providing the perfect segue to pay homage to the land that provides us all with life. Later that morning, the youth connected with Protect our Winter Calgary to learn more about climate change and the work being done to mitigate this crisis. Many went away from the presentation feeling empowered that they can make a difference going forward.

Nature Walk in Kananaskis

The afternoon provided a blank snowy canvas, sharing a beautiful insight to past, present, and future stories of a Rocky Mountain meadow and forest. As we embarked on our nature walk it was not long until we could hear the alarmed chirping from the resident squirrel as we gleefully hunted tracks to learn secrets of the often-hidden mega-fauna. After a group meal and many laughs, the group listened to a local conservation officer, learning everything from ecology, bear safety, and the importance of this iconic species on the landscape. As the evening fell, you could hear laughter and joy as the closely knit group enjoyed games around the crackle of a fire as anticipation was in the air for the next day. 

As the last day of our retreat kicked off, we sat in the meadow within the shadow of Mount Baldy.    The fragrant essence of kinnikinnick and sweetgrass smoke surrounded us as we sat gazing at the beautiful landscape of Kananaskis. As we listened to Ninnaa Piiksii (Dr. Mike Bruised Head), an elder from the Weasel people, we stepped back in time and felt peace from a cultural tradition exclusively and intimately shared with our group dating back over 1,000 years. The contentment was evident as we all privately shared our hopes and dreams silently as the ceremonial pipe passed by. 

Later that morning, our cultural knowledge deepened as we learned more about the significance of missing Iinnii (the Blackfoot word for Bison), which are now slowly returning to the landscape due to their Kainai Iinnii Rematriation Project. It was heartwarming to learn the tales of the ground squirrels and birds that have already started to thrive, since the bison was reintroduced back on the land, a land that they should have never left. Our afternoon was spent with Elder Api’soomaahka (Running Coyote), where we had the opportunity to connect with the land utilizing gifts from mother nature. The team practiced with ancient technologies to grind unfamiliar wild natural foods, like pemican, and weave hide to create medicine pouches designed to provide spiritual protection to the owner. 

As the 2023 summit came to a close, we said our goodbyes, we knew in our hearts that this was only the beginning of continued friendships, a sense of community where all feel they belong, and a place where inspiring thoughts will forever prevail into a lifetime passion for the wilds we know and love as Alberta. 

Participants of the 2023 CWSP