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Seeing the whole picture

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 25, 2012

Patrick Simon has to look at the big picture as environment manager with Deninu Ku'e First Nation (DKFN) in Fort Resolution.

NNSL photo/graphic

Patrick Simon, environment manager, has to consider a multitude of factors in his job with Deninu Ku'e First Nation. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"Because it's for the Deninu Ku'e First Nation, we approach the environment holistically - so body, mind, spirit," he said. "One of the challenges is to include it all in, but to do it in perspective of other people's roles."

Simon has to consider a multitude of factors that go into creating a healthy environment - culture, the economy, environmental assessments, research studies, monitoring initiatives, and working with companies and various levels of government.

"An environment is big, right?" he said. "So it's mostly use, impacts, effects."

Deninu Ku's First Nation insists Simon's office factor in everything.

"You've got to give them the whole picture," he said.

Like any environment manager, the quality of the air and water is a large focus of Simon's work.

"Right now, that's about 75 per cent of it, and more than half of that is on water," he said. "Water is maybe 50 per cent of my job."

The other things he deals with range from regional and even national issues such as the development of the Alberta oil sands, British Columbia hydroelectric dams on the Peace River and climate change to more local concerns such as the legacy of the Pine Point mine to the west of Fort Resolution and protecting drinking water.

The scope of his duties aside, Simon said actually managing an office is pretty basic.

"You take care of the office, you write the proposals, you do the reporting, you are accountable for the office of the environment manager," he said. "It's all the boring stuff, too, of working in an office. Actually, as I got older, it got more interesting and better. I found that I was better prepared."

Simon, 50, enjoys working as an environment manager.

"Our department has come a long way in terms of gaining recognition and respect," he said. "Government, as well as the scientific community and academia, they know and understand what we do and it's bona fide."

Simon noted one thing gaining more acceptance from government and scientists is the equal use of traditional knowledge.

His office treats science and traditional knowledge equally, he said. "It's 50/50 for us. It's not a mixture or a combination. It's side by side."

Simon started training as an assistant manager in the early 1980s, and since then has worked with a number of organizations and projects in Fort Resolution. Plus, he worked for several years outside the community with the federal Department of the Environment as a meteorological technician - a person who records weather conditions and maintains monitoring equipment.

In 1995, he started training as an assistant environment manager with DKFN and the Akaitcho Territory Government.

Simon, who also serves as deputy mayor with the Hamlet of Fort Resolution, has been environment manager with DKFN for about eight years.

In that role, he enjoys working in a variety of settings and with many diverse people - community residents, presidents of companies, government ministers, technicians and others.

In particular, he mentioned scientists, who he called well-meaning, smart people. "Scientists are a breed on their own."

However, he has a mixed view of dealing with government bureaucracy, which he said can be overwhelming at times. "Just working with that can be very exciting. It can be frustrating. It can be really demoralizing and really make you feel low."

Simon said he has a reputation of liking to work on environmental issues, adding the issues are alive for him. "I see it in my mind and it's always plain, and I'm passionate about it."

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