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Panel 217 - Bridging Science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Bridging Science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Best Practices

Organized by: Natural Resources Canada’s Office of the Chief Scientist

Speakers: Leah Braithwaite, Executive Director, ArcticNet; Dr. Solange Nadeau, Senior Forest Sociologist, Canadian Forest Services at Natural Resources Canada; Scot Nickels, Director, Inuit Qaujisarvingat: The Inuit Knowledge Centre; Rachel Olson, President and one of the Founding Directors, The Firelight Group

Moderator: Dr. Donna Kirkwood, Chief Scientist, Natural Resources Canada

Takeaways and recommendations

Understanding the value of Indigenous knowledges (IK)

  • UNESCO definition: Local and Indigenous knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. Local knowledge informs decision-making about fundamental aspects of day-to-day life.

  • IK is also about practice, values and belief systems.

  • IK can add to Western science as a knowledge system. It is more local and includes land-based experience, as well as generations of observed changes on the landscape.

  • Research/science knowledge is a fundamental part of IK, not separate from it. Western scientists often separate IK in this way, but Inuit do not. Inuit knowledge is, like all knowledge, based both on “traditional” and modern. This is important knowledge that reflects the Inuit people’s unique vantage and that can assist in improving the way research and science gets done.

  • “Integrate” (i.e., integrating IK knowledge) is not a word or activity that most Indigenous people support. The focus should be on self-determination and avoiding the appropriation of knowledge by academia that “integrate” often implies.

The role of Indigenous peoples in defining research strategies

  • Despite decades of research and monitoring, the social equity outcomes for Inuit are still relatively poor (e.g., education, health, economic development). A solution to this is to improve Inuit self-determination in research and a formalization of Inuit involvement in all aspects of research

  • Increased observation, monitoring and research do not necessarily generate positive outcomes for Indigenous Peoples without their involvement.

  • Research within Inuit territory is still dominated by non-Inuit and southern researchers.

  • Inuit took the lead in developing the National Inuit Strategy on Research (NISR) launched in March 2018. Its five priority areas are:

    • Advance Inuit governance in research

    • Enhance the ethical conduct of research

    • Align funding with Inuit research priorities

    • Ensure Inuit access, ownership and control over data and information

    • Build capacity in Inuit Nunangat research

  • The strategy will need coordination and partnerships with government and academia in order to implement its priority areas, objectives and tasks.

ArcticNet’s contributions in transforming the way northern science is done

  • Networking and partnerships with Inuit have been one of the core achievements for ArcticNet over the last 14 years. (nearly 1,100 Inuit engaged).

  • From the beginning, Inuit have been involved in the governance and management of the network at all levels, including on the Board of Directors, Research Management Committee and within research projects.

  • Engagement is a process though, and increasing collaboration by academic scientists and enhancing capacity of Inuit communities to conduct research and partner with the broader research community is ongoing.

  • ArcticNet now has projects developed and co-led by Inuit organizations. In the 2018 Call for Proposals, projects were proposed by Inuk university-based researchers for the first time.

  • Enhanced knowledge mobilization process through direct project by Inuit partners is leading to more rapid use of results in local and regional decision-making (e.g., Nunatsiavut food security strategy development).

  • The vision for a proposed renewal of ArcticNet is to align with the NISR by continuing to strengthen academic-northern collaboration and support a new ‘North-by-North’ Inuit-led Research Program.

Advice for researchers working in Indigenous communities

  • Work on issues that are relevant for the community or local organization.

  • Even if you find something relevant to the community, it may not have the time or resources to engage with you or may not want to for other reasons (e.g., history of colonialism). Be efficient and don’t waste people’s time.

  • Design and implement the research in collaboration with the community at every stage.

  • Develop a research agreement clearly stating the nature of the collaboration. The agreement should also give Indigenous communities control and access to data, as well as intellectual property in some cases. Continually revisit the agreement as you move forward.

  • Be mindful that some communities already have protocols or guides for how to do research with non-Indigenous researchers; others will not.

  • Be flexible and open to change.

  • Do your homework. Learn everything you can about the community before you get there, both through research and mentorship if available.

  • Listen. There is a lot of information contained within local stories. It is how many Indigenous people pass on knowledge.

  • Give appropriate credit when IK is provided.

  • Set clear expectations of what will happen with the research from the beginning, and ensure people understand you are a researcher and not a policymaker (i.e., not the person who will implement changes).

  • Do not just take what you need from the community. Take time to think of the many ways you can give back. Incorporate this into your process, and consider ways to increase Indigenous education, training and capacity.

  • Be respectful and trust the knowledge of the community.

How postsecondary institutions, granting agencies and governments can help

  • A more coordinated research landscape will remove the impediment of having to apply to several different government departments or agencies to do research with Indigenous communities. The new tri-council Canada Research Coordinating Committee may prove useful on this issue.

  • New funding is needed to cover costs that are unique to research in Indigenous community, including relationship building and local implementation of the research results.

  • Award grants directly to Indigenous communities so they own the results and are in control of the whole process.

  • Research written in the language of the region can capture more nuances and should be encouraged (it can then be translated to English).

  • Tri-council should invite Indigenous people onto its research ethics board.

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