Vicki Sahanatien: Arctic to the Central Coast

Vicki Sahanatien

With a deep-seated love for nature and life-long commitment to protecting wild areas, Vicki Sahanatien has been immersed in protected areas and wildlife management her entire career. And that dedication has taken her to some incredible places!

A member of Wahta Mohawk First Nation in Central Ontario, Vicki grew up amongst the mixed forests, lakes, rivers and ancient granitic outcrops that dominate the landscape near Georgian Bay. Throughout her education in ecology and natural science, Vicki complemented her academic learning with research into Indigenous knowledge systems, plus direct experience in gathering and incorporating that into decision making.

“I’ve had the good fortune to work in the field most of my life, and in some of the most remote wilderness areas and national parks of Canada,” says Vicki. “Experiencing new places, cultures and ecosystems continues to inspire me.” Starting her career as a patrol person at Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Vicki has worked in many roles with Parks Canada: park warden, park ecologist, park planner and resource conservation manager, and she was the first woman Chief Park Warden in Canada at Ivvavik National Park on the Yukon Beaufort Sea coast.

A life-long learner, Vicki completed her PhD in 2015 studying polar bear spatial ecology and climate change impacts on sea ice habitat. During her 28 years in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, she led conservation programs and multi-disciplinary research teams. “It was an enlightening and exciting time to work in the Arctic,” she says. “Researchers received the funding needed to develop fundamental ecological knowledge and study climate change, and both territories were initiating new co-management protected areas regimes prescribed by land claim agreements, which required governments to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous rights, approaches and ownership.”

Throughout her time in the Arctic, Vicki worked with a diversity of people and organizations, including Indigenous organizations, wildlife and park management boards, and hunter and trapper groups. Drawing upon her in-depth understanding of Indigenous histories and worldviews, Vicki ensured that traditional ecological knowledge was incorporated in research and management decisions.

“Although the marine ecosystems and landscapes are different, there are similarities between the Arctic and the Central Coast,” says Vicki. “In both regions, the same oceanographic processes drive the marine system and communities are located at the interface of the land and sea, relying on marine resources for sustenance. I see the people being similarly motivated by the struggle for sovereignty over their territories and creating marine use agreements and management systems to reflect that.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will delay travel, Vicki looks forward to spending time in each community and on the water to gain first-hand experience of the Central Coast Nations’ territories, as well as the day when she can finally connect with CCIRA team members in person!

“For now, I’ll absorb as much information as I can,” she says, adding that building relationships will be a major part of her work going forward. “It’s so important to learn directly from community members and to use that knowledge to make further progress on the Nations’ priorities.”

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