“I’m concerned about the watershed. I’m concerned about the creatures that live in it and the people who use it. I guess I see it as a living being—it’s all interconnected, interrelated.”
The sentiments of Terry Kawulia, a local man who attended the inaugural ManOMin conference here last Friday and Saturday, summed up why many of the 100 people from Ontario, Minnesota, and Manitoba turned out.
From the opening prayer by elder Annie Wilson to her closing one, those on hand could choose from 25 presentations on topics ranging from algae to pollution. But the common reason many people seemed to be there was their concern for the Rainy River watershed.
“I found all the data on the basin interesting,” said Paul Anderson, a Minneapolis man who’s also a summer resident on Rainy Lake.
“There was some data people weren’t aware of. For instance, I wasn’t aware Fort Frances didn’t have secondary treatment until 1988—and I think people would be interested to know that,” he noted.
The conference, Anderson added, was an example of various agencies working together for the sake of educating people about the watershed.
Rowland Hamly of International Falls agreed the conference would prompt him into action.
“This conference is so good, so impressive. I didn’t realize there was so much going on with monitoring programs and the co-operative efforts between the U.S. and Canada,” he remarked.
“Jesse Anderson [of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] talked about monitoring programs, and I didn’t realize there was volunteering for them in our area.
“I know I’m getting involved,” Hamly said.
On the other hand, Oliver Martin, a marketing analyst with the Canadian Tourism Commission based in Ottawa, was concerned not with pollution nor wildlife but on how to raise awareness of the watershed by promoting tourism here.
“U.S. tourism is the largest, most lucrative market in the world,” Martin remarked during his presentation on the CTC’s role in assisting tourist operators.
“They comprise 67 percent of international visitors to Canada, numbering at 13.04 million in 1999,” he noted. “But one of the big problems we have in Canada is promotion.
“No matter what we seem to do, a majority of tourists continue to go together Vancouver or Toronto.”
Offering help to promote “remote” areas such as Rainy River District, Oliver said technology was a tool that should not be ignored by area tourist operators.
“The Internet allows smaller operators to compete with the big boys,” he stressed. “It has huge potential to do what we must do—promote Canada and its natural attractions on a global scale.
“I think any operator should really look into it,” he said.
The conference also attracted Indian Affairs and Northern Development minister Robert Nault, who spoke briefly during the wrap-up.
“The most important thing about the conference is that it was organized not by any government organization or other special interest group, but by First Nations people,” said Nault.
“First Nations people have always been the stewards of the land, and I’ve found the Ojibway of the Rainy River District to be the stewards of the watershed.
“I’m proud to be minister of Indian Affairs when I see a First Nation take its rightful place and showing us some direction,” he remarked.
Nault also applauded the success of the program.
“I’ve come to welcome you all back next year. This is going to be the wave of the future where borders won’t matter as a much as preserving our heritage and the environment,” he said.
All the presenters received paintings from Rainy River First Nations as a sign of thanks while Nault was given a fleece shirt.
Organizer Jennifer Mercer, who also did a presentation on the Rainy River First Nations watershed program, was thrilled with the conference’s success.
“Even looking at the list now, the number and range of speakers is amazing. Informative, educational, and it got people thinking about partnerships,” she enthused.
And after spending almost four months organizing the conference, Mercer noted the committee is slated to meet for a debriefing May 17, with planning for next year’s event to start soon after.
“We’ve collected the questionnaires from everyone, and we’ll look to make it even better next year,” she noted.