Several years ago, Paulette Fox (Naatawawaohkaakii) (MSc '05), manager of the Environmental Protection Division for the Blood Tribe Land Management Department, was driving up Lethbridge’s west side hill with her young son. She asked him to imagine the land with no buildings or houses, only teepees and buffalo. Pondering this for a few minutes he asked, "So mom, where did the buffalo go and what are we going to do about it?"
Raised on the Blood Reserve, Fox had contemplated the same question as a child.
“I always pondered the buffalo and that continued journey made me interested in environmental issues,” says Fox. “When I graduated from high school in 1995 I enrolled at the University of Calgary. In my third year they offered an environmental science undergraduate program. I was one of the first students to participate in that.”
In 1998, Fox put her undergraduate degree on hold to attend the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER). She earned a certificate in Environmental Protection, Assessment and Education in 2000 and moved to Lethbridge to take her last few undergraduate classes at the University of Lethbridge.
“I had always wanted to return home with my education and, not being quite finished, I got special permission to complete the last few courses of my U of C degree at the University of Lethbridge,” explains Fox.
In 2001, she completed her bachelor of science degree in environmental science and received an NSERC scholarship to begin her master’s degree.
“Coming from a larger institution, I found the U of L campus very student friendly with the smaller class sizes, and I felt I could approach my professors,” says Fox. “My supervisors,
Dr. James Byrnes, Dr. Stefan Kienzle and Dr. Leroy Little Bear were great resources. Through Leroy, I had the opportunity to participate in dialogues with academic and spiritual leaders, not only from Native ancestry but from other ancestry as well. This was a very powerful experience for me, and one I don’t think I would have had otherwise.”
Fox was also involved in the Native American Students’ Association and spent one semester as the association president.
“It was a very good experience in terms of being grounded in some of the issues that students face. I was able to get involved in many different activities and participate in Native Awareness Week,” remembers Fox. “My experiences at the University were very positive.”
She continues her association with the University through her membership in the First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) chapter of the University’s Alumni Association (ULAA).
“The FNMI chapter is relatively new and I am proud to be part of its inception. This is a great step forward, bringing together graduates who have aboriginal ancestry,” says Fox.
In 2005, Fox graduated with a master’s degree in environmental science and began working for the Blood Tribe. At the time, there was no formal environmental protection division so Fox developed the agency to benefit her community.
“We write grants and get funding for proposals to work on a wide range of environmental projects on the reserve. We cover forestry, rangeland health and species at risk, and work on a regular basis with the elders and different advisory committees,” explains Fox. “We are teaching our community to utilize cutting edge technology to monitor our landscape.”
While her future goals include helping other First Nations communities develop their own successful environmental programs, Fox is very proud of her staff and the work they do in the field and in their own community.
“My hope for our community is to be able to thrive as when we had the buffalo, self-sufficient and proud of our ways.”
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• Husband Duane Mistaken Chief (Aiaistahkommi), son Austin ( Kiisom), daughters Jaklyn (Niiokskasiipistakii) and Dallis (Akainskii) all speak, read and write Blackfoot.
• Fox’s master’s degree examined the use of GIS to link Blackfoot environmental knowledge with ecological databases.
• Fox serves as an advisor – Tribal Government, Blood Tribe Administration. She also co-facilitates community dialogues with Dr. Little Bear and is a panel member for the Native New Student Orientation at the U of L.
• Fox is a sessional instructor at Red Crow Community College and the recipient of research grants totaling more than $400,000.