Kelowna, BC-based researcher wins award for supporting Indigenous-led conservation work – Okanagan

A UBC Okanagan masters student is being recognized for his efforts to support Splatsin First Nation’s long-term goal to recover the culturally important Caribou population.

Mountain caribou are endangered, and the BC government states that 90 per cent of the world’s caribou population lives in the province. As of 2017, the population was recorded being 1,500 in 15 herds throughout the province.

Wildlife ecologist Mateen Hessami is being recognized for his role in supporting Splatsin to “document their rich Indigenous knowledge, values ​​and perspectives related to protecting the Revelstoke Complex caribou herd,” states a press release from Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that promotes research opportunities.

“The last estimate [of Revelstoke Complex caribou] was 212 individuals,” said Hessami, who now works for Biodiversity Pathways research institute in Kelowna, BC

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“In the 1900 and 1800s, we don’t know what the populations were but we can estimate with a lot of certainty that there were in the thousands between Lake Okanagan and all the way to Cranbrook and Idaho.”

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Part of his research project was to help create a three-day workshop bringing together Splatsin Elders, Council Members and community hunters. Along with federal and provincial government caribou experts, conservation officers and academics to talk about caribou recovery and moose management.

One of the main objectives that came from that workshop was the conservation of caribou habitat, especially that of the Revelstoke Complex Caribou Herd.

“Indigenous communities in southern BC are part of an effort to protect habitat in this rare temperate rainforest,” said Hessami.

The other priority is to stabilize the moose population which attracts wolves that then prey on the dwindling caribou population.

“Some participants also indicated that harvesting moose populations in the Revelstoke complex area is important to protect caribou because moose attract wolves and wolves prey on caribou, but that many community hunters lack the financial resources to travel the distance required to reach these moose populations. As a result, the Splatsin and Biodiversity Pathways have identified an opportunity to apply for a grant to fund a moose hunting initiative,” states a press release.

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The project was funded by Mitacs, which is funded by federal and local governments. Hessami, who is a tribal member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, was awarded the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – Indigenous for the project.

“These prestigious awards …celebrate the tremendous achievement of top Mitacs talent and recognize the infinite potential for innovation made possible when capable leaders work together,” Mitacs CEO John Hepburn said in a press release.

“Mitacs is honored to play a role in helping to advance critical research, and foster economic growth, across Canada.”

Hessami was one of eight Mitacs award winners, chosen from researchers across the country. For more information visit

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Okanagan researcher supports Indigenous led conservation work

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