Making Waves

Samqwane’jk announces projects to enhance Indigenous competitiveness and innovation in oceans sector.

By Joey Fitzpatrick

Adam Kennedy remembers standing watch as a life buoy sentry aboard Royal Canadian Navy vessel, HMCS Preserver. In those long, lonely hours, keeping vigil for a man-overboard emergency, one constant was the smell of diesel exhaust. And so his vision for an electricpowered marine vessel began to take shape.

More than a decade later Kennedy is running his own company, Smaknis Maritime Safety & Security Inc. headquartered in Eel River Bar First Nations in New Brunswick. Earlier this year the company received an important boost towards developing a prototype electric rigid hulled inflatable boat.

Smaknis is one of three companies to be awarded funding through Samqwane’jk, a unique initiative designed to enhance technological competitiveness among Indigenous companies in the oceans sector.

The research at Smaknis will be a continuation of a recently completed feasibility study the company carried out with NSCC, and the Samqwane’jk funding will open doors for key innovations at the small Maritime company, Kennedy says.

“These types of innovations tend to happen at large corporations that have enormous R&D budgets,” he says. Last year the company refitted a Zodiac with a small electric drive, and the plan this year is to scale up to a larger, 19-ft vessel with a larger engine, while doing extensive data collection and research.

“We’ll have the ability to play around with different weight displacements, see what works, and develop best practices,” Kennedy says. “We ultimately want to learn how to build a rigid-hulled electric vessel that can serve navies around the world.”

The Samqwane’jk project is a first-of-its-kind initiative led by Ulnooweg, in collaboration with the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE) and Upswing Solutions.

“We want to build connections between the cutting edge, fast moving world of ocean technology innovations and our Indigenous communities,” says Cameron Paul, Program Manager with Upswing Solutions. The funding will help mitigate the risk that comes with what is often a “one step forward, two-steps back” reality of research and development, Paul adds.

“We can alleviate some of that risk and also help the firms remain competitive at the same time.”

Samqwane’jk applications were judged on a range of criteria including technological innovation, feasibility, sustainability and potential impact, Paul adds.

“We were looking for projects that would have a tangible impact, whether that was environmental or in social and community development.”

Samqwane’jk is supported with funding from Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. Sustainability is a cornerstone of Barry Stevens’ research and development, as the owner of Stevens Solutions & Design. The risk posed by natural events like over-land flooding, rising sea levels and forest fires is all too real, but all too often overlooked, Stevens, a member of Acadia First Nations, points out. Urban planners, community leaders and ordinary folks all tend to have an eyes-glazed-over look when these subjects come up, and Stevens believes he knows why.

The answer, he says, lies in the data. The two-dimensional maps, satellite photos and other geoterrain data commonly available simply fail to effectively communicate the risk of flooding and other natural events.

“It’s not relatable, and it’s not interactive,” he says. His company employs LiDAR, a detection system that works on the same principle as radar, but uses light from a laser. Together with his son, Noah, Stevens has built on LiDAR technology, which is in the public domain, to develop a proprietary web app that provides 3D modelling that users can manipulate to play out various scenarios.

“It provides total interactivity, and communicates the level of risk for non-technical people in a way that they can understand,” Stevens says. “You can play with the water levels and zoom into a town’s waterfront, a wastewater treatment plant, or your own home. We can customize it for a community’s needs.”

Many First Nations communities find themselves situated on land that is at risk from both overland flooding and sea level rise. With the support from Samqwane’jk, Stevens plans to deliver the 3D modelling software to a number of First Nations communities across Atlantic Canada.

“There are at least a dozen high risk First Nations communities across the region, and many of those communities have already expressed interest,” Stevens says. “Samqwane’jk is the key to this, and I’m hoping to be able to leverage that into other sources of funding.”

Communities can use this risk assessment tool to take preventative measures, whether that involves building a culvert system and berms, or developing a stabilized coastal edge with living organisms, known as a living shoreline, that prevents erosion.

Working in conjunction with Natural Resources Canada and Canadian Forces, Stevens has also used this 3D modelling to show the projected path and potential destruction of wild land fires.

“You can adjust for prevailing winds, elevation, dryness and other factors,” he explains. “The model will show you where fire breaks are required, and how a fire can impact your community.”

From the bridge watch to the galley to the engineers, the success of any ocean-going endeavour is dependent upon the trained and skilled personnel aboard the vessel. But the shortage of trained personnel is a global problem in the marine industry.

A joint venture between Miawpukek First Nations and Horizon Maritime, Miawpukek Horizon has been developing seafarer and cadet recruitment and training solutions with both NSCC and the Marine Institute.

“It’s been in our DNA from Day One to crew great ships with great people,” says Miawpukek Horizon General Manager, Richard MacLellan.

The support from Samqwane’jk will allow Miawpukek Horizon to conduct a seafaring training program targeted to Indigenous participants aboard the company’s vessel, the Polar Prince.

“With accommodations for 62, the Polar Prince is an excellent platform for cadet development and sea time experience,” MacLellan points out. “This funding helps us to overcome the various barriers to making this a reality.”

Participants will come into the program with various levels of experience, ranging from raw recruits who have never been to sea to those who have already completed extensive seafaring training and education.

“We want to show Indigenous youth that there are great career opportunities here,” MacLellen says. “These are well paying jobs, and it’s typically month-on, month-off, so you are able to stay in your community.”

Companies in the oceans sector swim in a world of technological innovation happening at everincreasing speed. Samqwane’jk has demonstrated just how advanced the Indigenous oceans sector already is, Paul points out.

“The quality and technical sophistication of the proposals we were getting from Indigenous entrepreneurs was really mind-blowing,” Paul says. “It was super encouraging to see how these companies are thinking about the future and ways to stay competitive.”