Bursary Spotlight: Ocean Van Mierlo is the 2023 Recipient of the Ann M Ball Bursary

Galore Creek has been proudly providing educational bursaries in support of Tahltan students since 2006, supporting a broad range of education and career aspirations. The bursaries are a commitment of our Participation Agreement with Tahltan Nation and are a key element of our relationship with Tahltan community members.

In 2021 we introduced the Ann M Ball Bursary program in honour of Ann’s lasting contributions to the Galore Creek Project, the mining industry, and Tahltan Nation. The annual $5000 bursary supports emerging and active leaders in the community. For this year’s spotlight, we are pleased to feature Ocean Van Mierlo, the 2023 bursary recipient.

Thank you for taking the time to give us some insight on your experience, passions, an inspiration, Ocean, and congratulations on becoming the 2023 recipient of the Ann M Ball Bursary.

Let’s get started, please tell us a bit about yourself:

My name is Ocean Van Mierlo I am twenty-one years old, and I am a part of the Tahltan Nation, particularly the Quock family and crow clan. I grew up in Dease Lake until the end of my grade 10 year, then I moved to terrace to complete grades 11 and 12.  I now live in Victoria where I am completing my undergrad in Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.

What is your favorite thing about being raised in Tahltan Territory?  

My favorite aspect of being raised in the Tahltan Territory is the deep connection with nature permeating every aspect of life. The Territory has a vast expanse of wilderness, with a couple of close-knit communities rich in Tahltan culture that created a unique upbringing. Living in Dease Lake, I was surrounded by raw nature, learning Traditional Knowledge from my family, elders, and mentors through hands-on learning and conversations. That produced my deep connection to the land, instilling a profound appreciation for nature. This gave me a deeper perspective on ecological processes and management outside the Western framework. That I deeply value, as I wouldn’t have developed this perspective if I had been raised elsewhere.

You have several examples of fantastic community involvement initiatives that you’ve been a part of, one of the reasons you were a great fit for the Ann M Ball bursary, tell us more about your favorite roles and places to volunteer from your recent experiences? 

Immersing myself in community initiatives, particularly with Tene Mehodihi, has been a fulfilling experience. I can blend my passion for science with my love for the land, participating in tasks like collecting water and plant samples and contributing to developing lesson plans for youth camping trips. I enjoy passing on knowledge, especially in botany and earth sciences, about the natural features within the Tahltan Territory, resonating with the land teachings I loved when I was younger. I also value my spontaneous volunteer experiences with Tene Mehodihi, like preparing lunches for firefighters during the Telegraph’s challenging 2018 fire season. In addition to my experience with Tene Mehodidi, I enjoyed volunteering at Dease Lake School, where I supported students in completing their homework. This dynamic engagement allowed me to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in university while demonstrating some study techniques to the students. Through these roles, I find joy and satisfaction in using the skills I learned in university to impact my community positively.

Recently, in your role as Environment Assistant for GCMC’s 2023 Field Season, what was your favorite environment program to work on?

Throughout my recent field season as an environmental assistant with GCMC, I found fulfillment in engaging with various environmental programs, ranging from amphibian to fish salvages to goat surveys. Among these, my favorite involvement was in the collection of baseline data. I assisted biologists and hydrologists in gathering blueberries and water samples from various locations to uncover their element conditions in both areas slated for impact and those unaffected by future mine operations. This task allowed me to apply the knowledge I acquired from my university labs, encompassing control sites, plots sites, and spectroscopy. More importantly, I love how the collected data contributes to prioritizing the quality of the ecosystems during the mine’s development, aligning with my values.

What are your plans for when you complete your degree? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

Upon completing my degree, my immediate plans are still evolving, given that I have three semesters left. However, my current inclination is to venture to South America or New Zealand for a few months, engaging in research alongside Indigenous communities. My focus would be on learning their traditional ecological techniques and exploring their modern application. Following this immersive experience, I envision returning to academia, either pursuing vet school with a wildlife specialty or master’s program in biology or environmental studies.

In five years, I aspire to be actively involved in conservation efforts, collaborating with my own or other Indigenous nations to protect and restore ecosystems, to reduce biodiversity loss. Alternatively, in five years I may be completing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, hopefully securing a mentor to specialize in the care of large wild mammals.

Lastly, what do you like to do in your free time? 

As a dedicated full-time university student, my days are often consumed studying indoors. However, whenever I have free time, I seize any opportunity to venture outside. The thrill of mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and snowboarding generates endorphins and an adrenaline rush. That serves as a fantastic way to destress and fuel my soul, especially during my midterms and finals.

Thanks for sharing with us, Ocean, what a fantastic example of your connection to your community and passion for volunteering, mentoring, and sharing knowledge. We here at Galore Creek wish you all the best in your ongoing studies and future endeavors. 

Is there anything else you would like to add about your fellow peers, or your community? 

I would like to tell my fellow and younger peers in my community that there is a lot of support for Tahltans wanting or currently perusing post-secondary education or training. I want to emphasize that their dreams, interests, and passions are not only valid but worth pursuing even if they come from a small community. The more individuals seizing these opportunities the better, as more people from various disciplines can give back to their community in their own unique meaningful way!

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