Deborah Bear is an environmental scientist. Nothing makes her happier than being in the field, collecting soil samples, documenting riverbank erosion or flagging sites of high archaeological potential.
“I’ve climbed steep hills, waded through marshlands, trudged through thick forests and walked though farm fields, yet I’m still amazed at the environmental diversity of the province of New Brunswick,” she says. “This land is so precious and my job consists of learning about and surveying species.”
“I work in all kinds of environments. Recently, I had to wear hip-waders, which I’d never done before,” she says, referring to the high waterproof boots. “I waddled like a duck. This was definitely a learning experience.”
Deborah lives in the Tobique First Nation community, south of Grand Falls and has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies. In July, she was hired through the Indigenous consulting firm Green Eagle Services to take part in a series of environmental and archaeological studies for the Energy East Pipeline project in New Brunswick.
“I found out about this job opportunity through one of my Chiefs who posted the ad on his Facebook page,” says Deborah who, in the space of three months, worked on an aquatics field study – measuring and photographing various fish species, evaluating their habitat and recording all data – before joining a wetland and vegetation team, and finally an archaeological crew working on identifying and safeguarding any Indigenous cultural heritage within the planned pipeline construction zones.
The second discipline – wetland and vegetation – was probably the one closest to her heart.
“The crew was just terrific and I learned so much about certain species, the ash tree in particular,” she says. “My concern was for the ash trees found within the proposed pipeline corridor. My father, uncle and grandfather were basket makers. The ash used for baskets is becoming rare and our culture is losing the basket making skills due to the scarcity of the wood.”
During the study, Deborah learned about an invasive beetle killing ash trees in the United States and the data that she and her team collected will be analyzed to find ways to prevent its spreading to the ash in New Brunswick.
TransCanada completes a detailed environmental impact assessment for every project it undertakes. It is based on extensive field studies, which gather data to examine all existing natural resources along the proposed project such as vegetation, soils, wildlife, water resources and wetlands.
To achieve environmental solutions, collaboration is crucial. This is why we engage with Indigenous communities to identify and understand their use of the lands and additional unique environmental concerns.
“Indigenous people have such a connection to the earth and to the environment, and to what happens with it so engaging them is so important,” says Karen Paul from Green Eagle, the company that hired Deborah and 14 other Indigenous community members from across New Brunswick to take part in the latest round of environmental studies.
“These field studies provide opportunities for Indigenous communities to be directly involved in the work being done,” Karen says. “Those who joined the program get to see how seriously those studies are being done and appreciate the level of commitment and respect that a non-Indigenous company like TransCanada is showing towards the environment.”
Before she started working on the Energy East environmental studies, Deborah went through training that included a cultural sensitivity session.
“I was surprised because, being from a First Nation community, I didn’t think it was necessary for me to take it, but I actually enjoyed it because it reminded me of all the things that made me an Aboriginal and why I was out there doing what I was doing to protect this land through these environmental studies.”