North Creek, also known as Whákeras Creek – one of the four creeks in Kahnawake besides Suzanne River, Little Suzanne River, and Delormier Creek – was once a place community members could go for a swim and find a good catch in summer months, or go skating in the winter.
For many, it was an integral part of community life. But that has changed over the past decades as the health of the creeks has dwindled largely due to infrastructure works.
In an effort to revitalize the creek, the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) has launched the North Creek Project which was borne from the Aquatic Stewardship Program they carried out over the past year to monitor and determine the health of the creeks.
During the sampling on North Creek especially, Tyler Moulton, environmental projects coordinator of aquatic habitats at KEPO, was pleased to see many people come up to ask about the work and share stories about the creek – what they used to see, and how they would interact with the water.
“It was those interactions of people saying what the creek used to be, and they wish they could have some of that back.”
The community’s voice was at the root of the motivation that kickstarted the project.
“The project comes from hearing from community members directly how much this creek means to them, and the history of the creek in the community,” said Carlee Kawinehta Loft, environmental projects coordinator at KEPO.
Aside from beautifying the area, bringing back some of the activities at the creek will be an added upside.
“There’s a lot of life that wants to be living in it and you see a lot of life living in it,” Moulton said, adding that black-crowned night heron and beavers are observed in and around the creek.
However, he noted that water quality seems to be low, which was determined due to a low number of communities of insects – benthics and macroinvertebrates specifically, which are an indicator of water health.
“There’s not a very diverse group of species of those creepy crawlies on the bottom (of the creek),” he said.
Both Moulton and Loft emphasized the importance of community input in reimagining what the creek could become and how it could benefit the community.
KEPO is exploring different avenues when it comes to restoration. “Creek restoration is work that can be done to improve or enhance the health of the creek,” said Loft. This could take effect through different avenues: reshaping the creek, culvert improvements, flow increases, invasive plant removal, replanting native plants and shrubs, and improving fish habitat.
The project is currently in its first phase – community history – which consists of collecting stories and hosting workshops to gain insight about North Creek. It will be followed by community visioning, which will see more workshops taking place, Q&A sessions, mapping activities, all with the objective of gaining an understanding of the community’s priorities for the creek.
The restoration work is slated to begin towards the end of next summer – planned accordingly to avoid disrupting spawning activities of the fish, and animals will be going into hibernation.
Anyone looking to get involved can look out for posts on KEPO’s Facebook and Instagram for any upcoming activities and workshops about the project.
“We’d love to see a future where people are able to see the beauty in the creek again,” said Loft.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, August 11, in issue 32.32 of The Eastern Door.