Melanie Daniels is a Senior Advisor with Kisik Environmental Services. She is the product of a German mother and Métis father and grew up like most any other urban kid in Calgary without much direct connection to her traditional roots.

In spite of this, she is the niece of renowned Métis leader Harry Daniels—an enigmatic figure in Canadian Aboriginal politics. Melanie even marched with Harry on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as a child, in solidary with native women’s rights.

Melanie developed an interest in geology at an early age and aspired to work in Alberta’s burgeoning oil and gas sector, but switched her focus to biology at the University of Alberta after becoming a mother herself and gaining awareness of environmental issues.

On graduating, the Native Students Union sent her a letter indicating that she was the first Aboriginal female to obtain a degree in Biology from the University.

Thanks to her education as a biologist and experience with Aboriginal issues, Melanie was recruited by the federal Department of Indian Affairs (today, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) first as a summer student, then hired on part-time, and finally hired on full-time as the department was undertaking a cross-country initiative in managing environmental issues on reserves.

“I grew up aware that I was Aboriginal but never really thought much about it,” says Melanie. “It was only at Indian Affairs when I started to work with First Nations that I became aware of my culture and Aboriginality. The experience helped me get my feet wet in the environmental sector and opened up doors for me in the realm of Aboriginal relations. Relationships I formed in that position have stuck with me to this day, both personally and professionally.”

After working with Indian Affairs, Melanie took a position as an Environment and Surface Analyst with Indian Oil and Gas Canada, the body responsible for oil and gas development, monitoring and reclamation on reserves. She also became directly involved with housing and public works projects for Kehewin Cree Nation, south of Bonnyville.

Following her 9 years with the Government of Canada, she moved into a role with the Government of Alberta as a biologist involved with gravel pit reclamation projects. During this time, Alberta Environment began to implement the First Nation Consultation policy, and Melanie successfully applied as an Aboriginal Relations Advisor.

The government world had treated Melanie well, but she felt it was time for a change and entered into a consultancy role on behalf of industry, where she successfully acted as an Aboriginal Engagement Lead for the Vantage Pipeline project, which runs from North Dakota to Empress at the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.

A short career stop with TransCanada allowed her further experience with industry prior to joining her current organization, Kisik, and making connections to Annette Ozirny, a First Nations and Métis consultant through whom she became aware of AITF’s Aboriginal Environmental Services Network.

“I was never formally involved with any programs at AITF, but I closely follow the great work they do,” says Melanie. “Kisik is a start-up company that benefits not only from the efforts of AITF but all members of the Aboriginal Environmental Services Network who contribute to our growing industry.”

Marsha Heavy Head

Marsha Heavy Head is a Blood Tribe member and graduate of AITF’s Land Stewardship Program. She grew up on her family’s traditional land in the central part of Kainai First Nation, southwest of Lethbridge, before moving to the 19,000-acre Blood Tribe Ranch at the reserve’s northern limit as a child.

Marsha grew up connected to two worlds—that of her home and cultural heritage, and that of modern Alberta, which was largely non-indigenous. She split her time between the reserve’s ranch, in a sparsely populated area among nature, and the non-native schools she attended, where she performed well in her studies.
Following high school, Marsha attended post-secondary education in Lethbridge, hoping like many to graduate and find gainful employment. For many non-indigenous students, this reality is not inconceivable; however, for many of the Blood Tribe (where the unemployment rate at the time hovered around 80 percent), it was often unattainable.
“I didn’t grow up in poverty compared to many others in my tribe, who suffered from a lot of despair,” Marsha says. “My dad was very fortunate to be working, and I only later realized how good I had it.”

Marsha’s formal education had served her well as an administrative assistant, and she continued to spend a lot of time at home on the ranch. But there was something missing: she was working and making a living, but felt she her chosen career was not quite fulfilling. She was looking not only for a job, but a spiritual experience that honoured her ancestors and preserved her homeland at the same time. That’s when she found the Land Stewardship Program.

“ I never imagined my traditional knowledge could lead to a paying job—it was just how we lived ”

-Marsha Heavy Head, Blood Tribe

Following an internship, she became employed by the Blood Tribe Land Management as part of the Environmental Department, where she and a handful of staff today manage the Kainai Environmental Protection Agency (KEPA), formed with the help of Councillor Mike Bruised Head, whose tribal election campaign placed a focus on environmental issues after a personal experience of losing his water access as a result of industrial expansion.

Today, Marsha and her colleagues spend many of their days on rewarding drives, walks, and climbs through her traditional Blackfoot lands, in the shadows of buffalo jumps and buttes, working with land users to keep an eye on soil and water where industries like agriculture or oil and gas operate. During the winter months, much time is spent on educational opportunities, working with partners to further the group’s capacities.

“ I grew up with the knowledge that we aren’t greater than our surroundings. We are nature; we are responsible, and we have to continue to push the message ”

-Marsha Heavy Head, Blood Tribe
Ike Solway

Ike Solway is a Compliance Inspection Coordinator with Siksika Nation’s Natural Resource service area. The nation, located southeast of Calgary, is a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy on Treaty 7 land. Ike knows the territory well, having grown up on a ranch there and operating one of his own today, shared with his wife, two sons, some horses, and about 220 cattle.

“ Ike was a trailblazer as one of two first successful participants in AITF’s Land Stewardship Program back in 2008. ”

At the time, the Alberta Research Council was becoming invested in Aboriginal environmental issues, and Siksika stepped up in a big way to help pilot the program, nominating Ike as a candidate.

“I wanted my voice to be heard,” says Ike. “The program gave me the confidence to engage with industry and government agencies in a meaningful way, on behalf of Siksika Nation and those who live here.”

Ike’s beginnings were as humble as any; he attended public school in nearby Bassano (off the reserve), before moving to Calgary after high school to work construction. But it was not enough. Ike returned to Siksika in 2005, when he joined the tribe’s Land Management service area as a Field Tech. In 2007, he and his colleagues were visited by researchers from the Alberta Research Council, who proposed training sessions to help them develop their skills in land-use management.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” says Ike. “I believe in respect, trust, and honesty, and when you’re being honest, that means speaking from your heart.”

And there was much to speak about. For a long time, industry and government were not particularly considerate toward the cultural differences that exist not only between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, but also the cultural differences that exist from tribe to tribe and band to band. Today, Siksika works closely with Indian Oil and Gas Canada and the Alberta Energy Regulator to ensure all parties are fairly represented when it comes to development.

“ When we were consulted on our land-use, industry would hand us a proposal and say, ‘Here it is—Hurry! Hurry!’ and now they say, ‘Here it is—let’s take a closer look,’” says Ike. “When Aboriginal land users have the right tools in their hands, it makes for a much better dialogue.”

-Ike Solway, Siksika Nation

Indeed this dialogue has led to a number of accomplishments, including the formation of the Siksika Water Protection Plan (SWPP) committee, which has undertaken a project with First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG) to protect drinking water on the reserve. The committee’s efforts to clean up illegal dumping sites and disused water wells have also been an example for First Nations near Frog Lake and Cold Lake.

“We’re looking at all aspects of the community—including health and housing—which is what ‘environment’ really is,” says Ike.

“Whose voice is heard on this land? That’s what it comes down to. We have to hear the voice of our people when we communicate our needs to stakeholders, and we have to hear the voice of our ancestors asking us to take care of our traditional home. ”

-Ike Solway, Siksika Nation