Reconciliation Through Research: Better Policy and Decisions through the Braiding of Indigenous and Western Knowledges


Dr. Monique Dubé

Canadian Mountain Network

Executive Director

Disclaimer: The French version of this editorial has been auto-translated and has not been approved by the author.

Time has demonstrated the impacts of environmental and climate change on various populations but has also highlighted the disproportionate and inequitable effects on Indigenous communities, particularly those already marginalized. Indigenous Peoples, who have sustainably managed and stewarded the land since time immemorial, find their invaluable traditional knowledge systematically devalued and sidelined by prevailing Western scientific methodologies and decision-making processes. This exclusion poses a significant threat to the health and resilience of both their lands and their communities and limits our collective ability to solve Canada’s greatest environmental challenges. Effective policy, regulation and decision-making requires inclusivity of knowledge systems.

Indigenous knowledges and practices are frequently disregarded in research and decision-making processes in Canada, which are primarily influenced by colonial, conventional science approaches, non-Indigenous governance practices, and economic interests. There is a clear and repeated call for governments at all levels to respect and incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being. While federal, provincial, and territorial governments are working toward this goal, inequities, exclusions, barriers, and biases persist due to the complexity of the challenge and the reality of Canadian history towards Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous knowledge offers a framework that can bring society and science closer to the land. Success in this convergence requires, first and foremost, respect for and protection of Indigenous knowledge systems and the lands from which they arise. “Braiding knowledges” represents an approach that recognizes and respects the inherent validity of different ways of knowing. It emphasizes that strength lies not in trying to turn one way of knowing into another or assessing which is right and which is wrong, but by bringing them together in a space of equality where they can work together towards something more and better. Braiding knowledges advances the opportunity for co-existence and co-production of stronger science that leads to more equitable, relevant, and effective public policy and decision-making.

The Canadian Mountain Network (CMN), a Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) established in 2019, has pioneered ethical and equitable approaches to conducting research that is founded in the braiding of Indigenous and Western knowledges. CMN is the first organization of its kind in Canada to directly fund projects led by Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Holders. We have demonstrated how the braiding of knowledges can result in better science outcomes translated to better policy and decision-making. The majority of CMN’s research investments support Indigenous-led or co-led projects and initiatives.

CMN’s research, knowledge mobilization, training, and cultural initiatives have fostered a model of place-based, community-driven research that has led to better scientific outcomes, including the balance needed between economic, environmental, cultural and social sustainability. This model has supported Knowledge Holders, scientists, and decision-makers to engage in research practices that contribute to the decolonization of research in Canada.

Reconciliation is an ongoing process of learning, being open and trusting to new ways to develop respectful relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. Only through the process of reconciliation will we be able to address the urgent environmental challenges we face today, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and public health and wellness. Indigenous ways of knowing must be meaningfully integrated into stewardship policy and decision-making processes so that our lands, waters and resources can provide for us now and for generations to come.

CMN has demonstrated Reconciliation through Research shifting mindsets and building understanding through the creation of ethical spaces and knowledge co-production, a critical contribution to Canada’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. We have effectively “learned by doing” reconciliation, and we are committed to sharing the outcomes broadly. In fact, the research supported by CMN has demonstrated that the ethical braiding of knowledge systems holds the key to addressing some of Canada’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

CMN’s initiatives span a wide range of scopes, from revitalizing Indigenous cultural practices to enhancing the well-being of species at risk, and understanding the social, ecological, and economic impacts of climate change. Our on-the-land initiatives have demonstrated the balance required between economic, environmental, cultural and social sustainability. Our approach addresses knowledge gaps and enhances policy outcomes across various areas, including Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA), Indigenous stewardship of bison restoration in Alberta, caribou recovery in the Central Rockies, the reassertion of Indigenous place names in the north, the inclusion of Indigenous knowledges in transboundary Yukon salmon agreements, the inclusion of Mi’gmaq knowledge of aquatic ecosystems in Quebec, and community-based monitoring of climate and health in Nunatsiavut.

CMN is an example in action of the successes of collaboration between Western and Indigenous knowledges in research and knowledge sharing. Each CMN-funded initiative not only aligns uniquely with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals but also underscores our unwavering commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), reinforcing the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. Through this alignment, CMN creates a space for self-determination, community-based research, and robustly demonstrates expanded approaches to cooperative management, governance, and decision-making, as outlined in the UNDRIP Action Plan.

An inclusive knowledge culture in Canada can help advance Indigenous-led capacities that underpin self-determination, and ensure that Indigenous knowledges are reflected in the development and implementation of policy and regulation in Canada. The ethical alignment of federal responsibilities with place-based and self-determined Indigenous knowledges represents a defining question in Crown-Indigenous relations in Canada and presents both a challenge and an opportunity for reconciliation.

While many in the research community have rightfully recognized the importance of incorporating Indigenous voices into environmental and climate solutions, CMN has taken the initiative to create a unique safe space for its researchers to ethically collaborate and braid knowledge systems. Working with Indigenous partners, academics, and decision-makers nationwide, CMN has advanced new models and strategies that reflect an Indigenous understanding of and relationship to the environment. These innovative strategies include Indigenous communities leading and co-leading land-use planning, biodiversity conservation, protected area strategies, and environmental monitoring. 

Given the pressing nature of our current challenges, coupled with Canada’s commitment to UNDRIP and the SDGs, it is up to all of us to continue to create, support, and protect ethical spaces. These spaces can support federal priorities through the mobilization of local knowledge related to environmental change, conservation, restoration, adaptation, and Canada’s general well-being, embodying the principle of ‘learning by doing’ reconciliation that has been at the heart of our approach.

CMN is organizing a panel, Tools for Braiding Indigenous and Western Knowledges, on November 13th, 2023, as part of the 15th Canadian Science Policy Conference. The panel will discuss the challenges of braiding Indigenous and Western knowledges and features CMN Co-Research Director Dr. Paulina Johnson, CMN Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Dr. JA Morrow, CMN Board Member, Tiffany Traverse and Aleesha Tearl Jones, student Transition and Engagement Coordinator, Indigenous Student Center, University of the Fraser Valley. Learn more