In just five minutes of scouting the waters around the Kahnawake Marina, Nathalie Lasselin found a car windshield hidden in the depths.
This oddity could be just a taste of what’s to come when the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) holds a Tekakwitha Island “clean-up operation” on Saturday for the second time – last year’s haul included a propeller, a bicycle, and a manhole cover.
“I can’t imagine what they’re going to find throughout the entire event,” said Julie Delisle, environmental education liaison at KEPO.
All Kahnawa’kehró:non were invited to come to the marina on October 15 for the shoreline cleanup from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to help remove trash from the land and water.
There was no need for land volunteers to register ahead of time. Participants were advised to bring gloves and good shoes, and anyone who pitched in was entered to win an eco-friendly prize pack worth more than $100.
“I think it’s a really good way for the community to take direct action for the environment, to get out there and put in the work to help clean up this habitat that we have here,” Delisle said.
“It’s a never-ending story,” said Lasselin, president of Urban Water Odyssey, which is coordinating the dive. Last year, he team pulled up garbage from the section of the island near the bridge, so this year they are targeting another part of the river.
“Because the territory is so vast, it is going to take many, many years to go back there and pick up trash and debris from the past,” Lasselin said.
Kahnawake divers could sign up to go under water by registering ahead of time. “We’d be really happy to share the experience with them,” said Lasselin. “It will be really, really great.”
Community member Gail Taylor brought her nieces along last time when she volunteered on land, and planned to bring them again this year to continue teaching them about respect for the environment.
She hopes more people will find out about this year’s event and show up to volunteer.
“It made me feel happy,” she said. “I don’t think twice whenever there’s a callout to do cleaning or to help out to do whatever in the community.”
Despite her positivity about the experience, she is disappointed so much trash turns up around the island, including in the water.
“It was disturbing to see how much garbage they pulled out of the bay (last year),” she said.
Last year’s event was part of “Operation Clean-up 360,” an initiative by Lachine-based environmental group Groupe de recommandations et d’actions pour un meilleur environnement (GRAME).
The organization co-hosted again this year, this time as part of its Allo Ruisseaux project, which primarily focuses on creeks and streams that feed into the St. Lawrence River.
“I think the whole experience for the community was quite nice (last year) because they could see that it wasn’t just on land that the cleanup was being done but that bigger pieces were taken out of the water,” said GRAME’s communications coordinator, Sandrine Tessier.
“We’re just right across the river from Kahnawake, so it is one of our goals to have a closer working relationship with KEPO, among other things, so that in the future we can invest in more projects together,” she said.
For KEPO, the collaboration helps the organization pursue its larger goals around helping Kahnawa’kehró:non connect to the natural world and protect it.
“It’s not just about having a pretty environment for us to look at or a clean trail, which is, of course, crucial, but we’re facing so much in terms of the way the climate is changing and the world is changing,” said Delisle.
“This is a way for us to take ownership and take action and not just feel like it’s something we can’t control.”
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.