Samqwane’jk project to build on partnership and innovation
By Joey Fitzpatrick
When Glooscap slept, Nova Scotia was his bed, and Prince Edward Island his pillow. On one occasion Glooscap rode the back of a giant whale on a quest to find the Queen of Summer, so she could free his people from the deathly grip of the Ice King.
“The Mi’kmaq have always been coastal people,” says Paul Langdon, whose portfolio Strategic Initiatives with Ulnooweg, has the Samqwane’jk file. “The rivers of Nova Scotia were the highways to the ocean.”
The oceans will no doubt feature prominently in Indigenous future as well. Building innovation capacity in the Indigenous community is the goal of the Samqwane’jk Sustainable Oceans Project. Announced on June 8, 2021 – World Oceans Day – Samqwane’jk will connect Indigenous ocean businesses and ocean technology companies in Atlantic Canada to work on partnerships to improve the sustainability of our oceans and our communities. Samqwane’jk – meaning: those who love the water – is a first-of-its-kind initiative, led by Ulnooweg, in collaboration with the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) and Upswing Solutions.
“We see this as a great opportunity to build capacity in both the innovation space the Indigenous space,” says Langdon. “We want to see more involvement by the Indigenous community in the ocean sector.”
The scope of Indigenous involvement in the ocean sector is already larger than most people realize, Langdon points out.
“A lot of these entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs first,” he says. “They go out and start businesses, but they don’t necessarily fly an Indigenous flag on their vessels.”
Based in Mahone Bay, Stevens Solutions & Design Inc. is revolutionizing the field of 3D modelling using LiDAR, a process that measures ranges and distance by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. The company’s proprietary technology represents a ground-breaking innovation.
“We’ve taken these huge data files and developed an intellectual property to parse them to make 3D models for the end user,” says company owner Barry Stevens. “These can be used in fighting forest fires, or in predicting the impact a storm surge or sea level rise may have on a community.”
A 3D interactive map the company created of Mahone Bay’s waterfront, for example, graphically illustrates the potential impact of rising sea levels on the town’s infrastructure, including its iconic three churches.
“We’re providing this software to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities,” Stevens adds. “The technology has been vetted and peer-reviewed by geologists, scientists and fire investigators.”
Samqwane’jk is one among numerous ongoing initiatives by Ulnooweg Development Group, now in its 35th year as an innovative, not for profit organization dedicated to the success of Indigenous communities, individuals and businesses in Atlantic Canada.
In parallel, a five-year year youth engagement partnership between The Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation and Mastercard Foundation is designed to empower Indigenous youth, with a focus in four key areas: Harnessing the potential of youth leaders; promoting opportunities to access culture and language; building meaningful educational pathways; and supporting the transition to employment and entrepreneurship.
“We’re not telling the young people what they have to do,” Langdon says. “We’re engaging the youth, finding out what the youth in various communities want to be involved in, and then creating projects around that.”
Eight positions have been created across Atlantic Canada as a result of the initiative, including five Youth Engagement Officers, a Learning Facilitator, a Partnership and Outreach Coordinator and a Culture and Language Coordinator. The Digital Mi’kmaq program is a ground-breaking initiative under the Ulnooweg Education Centre that aims to bridge the digital divide faced by Indigenous children. It brings together leading Canadian professionals, scientists, companies, universities and STEM-focused organizations to deliver top flight educational programming to Indigenous children. The kids are not only taught how to code, but encouraged to explore new fields of creativity, science, math and engineering.
The Samqwane’jk project is designed to deliver measurable progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 interlinked goals for a more sustainable future. An awareness of the interdependence of all living things on the planet has always been a part of the Indigenous world view, notes Chris Googoo, Chief Operating Officer with Ulnooweg.
“The species in the oceans have value in their own right, and we need to respect that or it will lead to mass extinction,” Googoo points out. “It’s about taking only what you need.”
Successful applicants for the Samqwane’jk project will be eligible for both financial and consulting assistance. Projects will be selected later this year, and the key eligibility criteria is a partnership with an Indigenous company or community. The project could encompass anything from the fishery to environmental remediation to maritime security.
“There is a lot of potential for cross-pollination between Indigenous companies and the strong start-up ecosystem in the Atlantic region,” says project manager Cameron Paul, Sustainable Development Goals Manager at Upswing Solutions. “The project will help realize that potential and create beneficial partnerships which will connect Indigenous ocean-based enterprise to competitive innovation occurring in our region.”
Companies and individuals that participate in Samqwane’jk will have the opportunity to both enhance the sustainability of their oceans and communities and grow their business.
“The goal is to raise the level of innovation, participation and capacity in the Indigenous community by becoming engaged with the broader ecosystem that is already out there,” Langdon says. “We want the communities and entrepreneurs to come to us with their ideas.”