Stories of the sacred sturgeon, passed down by the people of the Mohawk Nation since the beginning of time, are powerful human motivators for saving an endangered fish. Now the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is tasking technology to help gain an understanding of what ecological conditions prompt this leap from the water, a healthy sign that the fish is ready to spawn.
At 7 p.m. June 19, in a talk presented at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries of Clarkson University by James Bonner, Ph.D., chief research officer for Beacon Institute, and Henry Lickers, environmental science officer of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Environment Program, will discuss how tradition and technology are helping to save the endangered sturgeon in “Sensors and the Sacred Sturgeon of the Mohawks of Akwesasne.”
The talk, moderated by Frank Geer, an avid fly-fisherman and pastor of St. Philip’s Church in Garrison, will take place at Beacon Institute’s Center for Environmental Innovation and Education at Denning’s Point in Beacon. The event is free and open to the public. Online registration is requested.
The backdrop for the conversation will be the current collaboration between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Bonner’s River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON) research team to restore habitat for the endangered sturgeon. REON is an integrated network of sensors deployed in water that allows for continuous, real-time monitoring of physical, chemical, biological and atmospheric data from points in New York’s Hudson and St. Lawrence River watersheds. The project, focused on the Grasse River near Madrid, St. Lawrence County, endeavors to save the endangered lake sturgeon by characterizing the ecological conditions of healthy habitats with sensor-provided data and applying project findings to ailing sites. The ultimate goal is to restore sturgeon habitat to optimal spawning conditions for the ongoing survival of the fish on the Grasse River and other locations.
Lickers, a biologist whose role with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne has engaged Native and non-Native people to work together in solving environmental problems, has witnessed the power of tradition to assist an often complex process. It was hearing Lickers’ relate Native lore to a room full of EPA regulators that originally sold Bonner on the effectiveness of this dual perspective. Ironically, according to Lickers, the original culprit in the decline of the sturgeon was technology, specifically dams. Now it is technology that is working to save the endangered fish.
When the British negotiated with Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs in 1834 to build what is now the Beauharnois dam in Quebec, the clan mothers and the Mohawk People knew this would destroy the river and harm the sturgeon. Despite the Mohawk concerns, the dam went ahead. The chiefs were sanctioned for not explaining well enough these concerns. It was said that “no reasonable people would wantonly destroy the river and the sturgeon.”
Working within the culture of the Mohawk people of Akwesasne, Lickers’ dual perspective motivates his mission: To his people, the sturgeon is sacred, and by connecting the spiritual and intellectual with tradition and technology, a common language can inspire new stories for generations to come.