Tree planting, culture, reclamation and partnership with Paul First Nation
For the second year in a row, TransAlta has sponsored a reclamation education program for Grade 5 and 6 students from Paul First Nation School. Harvesting and planting trees are part of educational studies on reclamation and traditional education.
Students, teachers and cultural advisors started the day at East Pit Lake recreational site; a fully reclaimed area of the Whitewood Mine. The reclaimed areas within the former mine have a variety of end-land uses such as agriculture, commercial, wildlife/wetland habitat and recreation. Other areas of the mine are now passing through final phase of the reclamation process with the last step being a reclamation certificate from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). To date, reclamation has been certified on 1120 hectares of the 1,900 hectares of the reclaimed land at the Whitewood Mine. The work that the students completed as part of the education program assist the reclamation process while providing valuable education connecting Paul First Nation youth with their traditional lands.
Next stop on the tour was the site of the 2014 tree planting where up to 70 per cent of the trees planted have flourished to the point where some of the tree poles started self-seeding the area. Students then proceeded to the planting site where they reviewed the March harvesting process before beginning the traditional blessing ceremony of the site. The ceremony brought a special sense of reverence of cultural history to Paul First Nation members and other guests in attendance.
How the trees were harvested and planted
In March 2015, while trees saplings are in winter dormancy, students, teachers and cultural advisors from Paul First Nation harvested tree poles from a site close to the Keephills 3 facility under the guidance of reclamation planning specialist Dan Kuchmak from SunHills Mining and senior aboriginal relations advisor Amanda Sanregret.
These poles were stored at -4C, keeping them cool and moist. Two weeks prior to planting, the poles are removed from cold storage and the bottom 5cms are submersed in water to draw and hydrate until the planting can be completed. Poles stored correctly will begin to develop a root bulge that, when placed into the ground, eventual develops into a root system. These poles were then brought out to a pre-determined site chosen to enhance the area adjacent to a future wetland. Poles were either directly pushed into the ground or required a pilot hole to be driven into the soil with a steel probe.
The tree planting provided students with exposure to the Aboriginal cultural and importance of industry and the Aboriginal communities working together. Students, employees and guests learned the importance of blessing the land prior to the tree planting. This blessing opens the land to recapture its living spirit to receive the trees to help them grow. Cultural advisor and ceremonial leader Cindy Bearhead and her son Karlton, a summer student with TransAlta, began the ceremony with a smudging using locally harvested sweetgrass. Students learned the importance of cleansing the mind, body, heart and spirit in preparing for the blessing. Cindy spoke of the importance of the land for future generations and the impact that each person has by participating in the planting.
Students and adults worked alongside each other for the remainder of the day planting 1,000 trees in a variety of tree species to begin the process of regenerating the land.
Our ongoing commitment to the Paul First Nation
This program is part of a number of initiatives between TransAlta and the Paul First Nation School including a hot lunch program, days of caring and Christmas gift drive.