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Full Transcript – Episode 2:        Stories, Anecdotes, and Analogies

Intro guitar music 0:00
Daniel de Kok 0:14

My conversations with (Knowledge Systems) Stream members touched on a lot of complex, abstract concepts that my guests often managed to illustrate through their use of personal anecdotes and stories. This episode offers just a few examples of this. It includes segments from my interviews with the following Stream members: Nathan Cardinal, Jennifer Silver, Soudeh Jamshidian, and Jonaki Bhattacharyya.

Nathan Cardinal 0:42

I could tell you a story for a sec. When I was working with Parks Canada, I was working with, I had the experience of working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well. And, oftentimes you kind of built upon the scientific approach to decision-making and knowledge.

And you kind of come to the table and be working to conserve fish species or conserve marine resources or anything like that. I’ve seen it with salmon, working in the Fraser River, or thinking about, um, shellfish within the Gulf Islands, and be like – oh well, these things look ok. Like from, from a Western science perspective, we’ve gone out, and we’ve done the math, and we’ve counted things and they look fine.

So, no need to worry, everybody. And then you talk with Indigenous Nations and others and be like – well this is not at all like what it is now. Sure it’s healthy when you look at the last five years of information from this one particular spot or from all these particular spots, but from my knowledge about these particular areas, it’s been rapidly going downhill for, forever.

And since the arrival of, of, um colonists and settlers and people from other places and um. It’s like – well sure thanks for that information, but you know, our way is right and it’s based upon this scientific method that I understand. And I remember sitting at some of those meetings and talk about ways to harvest and, like well we can use these giant industrial machines to go harvesting or we can use these scientific, scientific techniques to monitor or restore populations.

So yeah we will go out, and we will outplant and we will do this, that, and the other, and it was like, well – those are the problems I’ve got, those are the things that created the problem that got us here in the first place. Where we see this huge crash of resources. And why, why are we discounting Indigenous systems of knowing and behaving based upon that knowledge that they’ve lived in proximity to these environments for generations and have not done anywhere near the extent of damage that industrial systems have done in 50 years’ time.

Whether that’s thinking about fish wheels on the Fraser River – where it’s like this really, um, unique, selective methodology for harvesting fish, that was immediately transportable, based upon river systems – quite an intricate, you displayed an intricate understanding of the environment – to places like clam gardens or intertidal mariculture features whereby Nations would create these massive structures that would sustainably support communities and their traditional economies for millennia.

And then, you know, we come in and put in these other things that we think are better. And so my approach has always been, well, why do we need to do that? Why do we have to automatically think about these science and use other ways of knowing as being the correct way, and really the only way and everything else is just a bit of a story?

Jennifer Silver 4:21

It was really a flare up of debate, about seal hunting in Canada. And for anyone who’s even a little bit familiar with that, with that activity. It’s been long contested and opposed by particular environmental and animal welfare organizations. So much so that it’s gotten, um there’s a ban.

European Union has a ban on Canadian seal products hunted in Canada. And that ban has until quite recently has not been very attentive to distinctions between commercial hunting by non-Indigenous hunters and hunting by Indigenous harvesters, and also, you know, not necessarily fully about the population of seals, which in Canada, as I understand it is quite healthy, right?

So it’s really about, on ethical grounds, ethical and animal rights grounds at this, that, that the European Union has decided to make this ban. And so there’s disagreement about that among non-Indigenous hunters and Indigenous hunters of seal that we, you know, we use as the most ethical methods we can we, this is an important livelihood activity.

And so like any environmental debate, there are – people are going to use their knowledges their science, their perspectives, their images of the hunt, to take their particular stance on it, right. So it’s not in this paper about adjudicating whether the European Union is right or not, we’re saying, right, there’s this ban in place, there’s a disagreement, it’s been long-standing.

And Indigenous, Inuit hunters in particular, really, I would say, rightfully and understandably, are frustrated with the ways in which it has impacted livelihood. And the and the perspectives that people had about have about even consuming seal as a food product in the north, where there are very limited, like, it’s a long-standing food source.

Grocery stores are very expensive, all these things. So this is a background to the contestation. And so what Roberta and I noticed, I can’t even remember if it was like 2014, maybe now, somewhere, you know, around there, where so I’m going to now take us to the Academy Awards. We’re taking like a big U-turn here, I’m taking us away from seals for a second towards the Academy Awards, where Ellen DeGeneres who is a long standing animal welfare advocate, she was hosting the Academy Awards that year.

And she took a very famous selfie with a bunch of celebrities in the front row and posted it to her Twitter account. And it became, quickly, the most retweeted selfie, retweeted image on Twitter, and got a lot of media attention just because, you know, it was like a lot of celebrity faces. And it was Ellen and all of these things. And then Roberta and I noticed, because we were, you know, had Twitter accounts, read Canadian media, that all of a sudden there was this hashtag #Sealfie circulating and we’re like, well, that’s and with as a play on Ellen’s selfie.

And folks from the North were posting pictures of themselves, having hunted seal, consuming it, and making, you know, getting, trying to get information out there about why it’s an important livelihood activity and how the European Union ban and decades of campaigning has really constrained that activity for them.

And, and so it was a very clever, sort of jumping onto the Ellen’s selfie moment and developing or putting out there a new hashtag that then drew a lot of attention over several months. It got international press. And so we reached out to a few of the main initial posters and folks who we felt like maybe behind the scenes had been organizing a bit and talk to them.

So it was three or four interviews with Inuit activists, we downloaded a bunch of the tweets and did discourse analysis of them and about the ways in which people were talking about seals and seal hunting. And so really, yeah, we, we think we argue at the moment, it was a really very, clearly a very clever use of Twitter and hashtags.

And it was effective in drawing international attention to the debate of seals and seal hunting and the specific frustrations and, and related objectives, future-looking objectives for Inuit hunters and in that hunted seal, both for food and for commercial purposes. And, you know, we’re on a podcast today, like we all know, it takes a lot to get international journalistic attention.

And they effectively, a few of them effectively started this hashtag and with a matter of a month or so, you know, it’s showing up in even again, like the Guardian, I think there was an article some so like, beyond North America and non-Canadian press outlets, were reporting on the hashtag and then doing interviews with some of these posters to talk to them about why this was a really important issue to them.

So, you know, in a world where we have lots of questions about mis-information, and all that sort of thing, really valid and important questions about about social media, we like to think ours is a documented example where it was a very effective use of Twitter and that garnered international attention and really drew into question some of the some of the long standing and problematic colonial history of, of the campaigns against seal hunting, particularly in the north.

And so in so much as that was effective as doing that, I think it gives us lots of room to think about the ways in which, you know, Indigenous knowledges that folks wish to share online that there are ways in which you can kind of subvert, and draw attention to that I think are really interesting and that we all could probably learn, uh learn from.

Soudeh Jamshidian 10:24

I have a partner that is from Switzerland. And just like going to Switzerland, there’s the most interesting thing was this gorgeous land in the mountains. And it’s all just left to create, like, produce a little bit of cheese, like his family has, like some farms and stuff and nobody touches them. It’s, it’s owned by them.

So they could do whatever they want to it, but they don’t, it’s just there and a farmer lives there with some cows. And it’s more expensive for them to have this this way than actually to do anything else. Because there’s some, you know, these are city people, they don’t really work on the farm themselves. This is expensive for them, but they keep it, it’s their tradition. And they’re so proud of it.

And like, if I ask any question, of why is this happening this way? Because I’m curious. It’s just like, it’s the tradition, like, and a tradition is so important. Nobody questions it, this is how we do things. And I’m bringing that up, because just wanted to say it’s everywhere.

It’s not, it’s not like that stuff doesn’t exist in Europe is thinking about the value of that culture of, you know, the way that you know, is this for the Swiss producing cheese is very important. And their cheese is like one of their most important staples in their life. And they’re very proud of it too.

So it’s a very important thing, they’re going to take care of it, no matter what happens, that old tradition. And, you know, they have like, million-dollar views, the cows, like, I’m not even joking, like the cows, like, look through this mountain and this beautiful lake. And they produce a little bit of cheese. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.

And that’s what I want to bring our attention to that it’s not just about maximizing profit, the way that we see there is so much value in ecosystem services, in cultural services in your identity. Like, literally I can, it doesn’t, someone being really proud and calling something a tradition needs to happen this way, is not just saying it’s tradition. It’s also a person’s identity and pride. That’s why they keep it that way.

And I think we need to feel the same way about Canada and what we have here, then the like, I feel in Canada, there’s a little bit of a colonial mindset that has stayed here, this is our country, like, you can’t just think about selling all bits and pieces of it for money all the time, there is a level that you take care of things because this is your future, it’s your children’s future.

Nathan Cardinal 13:06

Land is really at the heart of who we all are. Whether you are an Indigenous person that’s living on the land and living in an intimate connection to the sun, the seasons, the species around you, whether you’re someone in downtown Vancouver or Hong Kong, that you… the tower you live on is still on a chunk of land, the food that you get still comes from the environment.

It’s not all yet, it’s not all yet from the lab and the air you breathe is still generated by plants to a large degree. They’re all connected. And we can recognize different ways of knowing in that connection.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 13:58

As a student, graduate student studying free ranging horses and their impacts on an ecosystem and their role in Xeni Gwet’in culture. I was studying their impact psychologically on plants. I was also interviewing people.

And one of the things that happened when analyzing that interview data is I realized, that was when I realized they had to pay attention to not only what people were telling me, for example: There’s many horses in this area, they hang out in herds this size, they eat these things, they interact with moose this way, they interact with bears and wolves that way.

I also had to listen to how people were speaking about horses and I noticed that the biologists I was interviewing, for instance with the provincial government, spoke at a population level. So they would say we have this count unit, there’s two thousand horses in that area. They do this, they do that.

When I was speaking to community members, they would talk about individual animals, they would say: “Well, you know, there’s that colt down over there, and it’s the offspring of this one. And that mare, she’s had a, you know, a run of this many foals over so many years. And I’ve noticed that that group, they’ve got plans, and when they decide to go up to this area, it’s the mare that’s making the decision, you know, if you interrupt them, the the stallion is going to act that way. And he’s going to get all defensive and blah, blah, blah, but the mare makes the decisions..”

And that’s kind of how it works in our society too you know, the women make the best decisions, and the guys are doing their thing. Literally, that’s how people were talking. And that’s, that was my introduction to what in academic circles we call kincentric ecology. So people relating to animals, as kin, as family, or friends or neighbours.

Soudeh Jamshidian 16:07

Afghanistan is a very special place if you work, especially for an international agency, like, you know, you’re just like hanging out in your guest house. And the person next to you is the head of, you know, USA telling you like, yeah.

I feel like, you know, we just wasted money in Afghanistan, we just came in with our plans, and, you know, wanted to help and did all these projects, and then at the end of the day, you learned that you should have just gone and asked the local community what they wanted. Because, you know, you’re like, oh, we have to go build the schools for kids, for girls. And it’s a great idea. But is that really what the community needs at this first response, or what is a better place to start?

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 16:56

When I was fresh out of my graduate degree, so I just finished my PhD, had been working on it for six years, was with Xeni Gwet’in, and they were engaged in a battle royale to fight off the construction of a copper and gold mine that was slated for a very sacred part of their territory.

This was all the precursor to the declaration of the Dasiqox Indigenous Protected Area. And so this process was on it’s not first, but second full environmental impact assessment review with the federal government.

So it had been rejected once already, they’d been through all the committee hearings, years worth of paperwork and reports, technical reviews, project got rejected outright, which rarely happens. Company came back with, once again, a slightly revised proposal for this mine in the heart of Tsilhqot’in territory. And it went again into a second full review.

And by then I had finished my PhD. And so I was asked to present with the Nation in opposition to this mine, at the technical hearings. For the environmental assessment review for the mine, and these, these were being held in Williams Lake. I always consider this presentation kind of like my community defense, like I’d just come through the academic process, had done my, successfully defended my thesis. But here, we were standing side by side in a governance process.

And I had to get up and kind of play the game, like let’s leverage this academic learning, all these years with the community, and use it for something that they want it used for. And I’ll tell you that the physical layout of that room was news to me. So in a technical review for what’s going to happen on Indigenous lands, the layout of the room is that the panel of independent government decision makers sits in the centre at the front.

And then, like a big wedding, up at the front of the room, near the panel, not the Indigenous land- like people whose lands it’s on. But the company who we are proposing the process sit up at the front. The communities, the Indigenous governments, the elected leaderships, the chiefs, the councillors, their staff, their lawyers are sitting in the audience, like members of the public.

And the presenters. Kind of there’s a there’s an open mic for questions and then as the presenter you go up and you sit in front of the audience – your back to the audience, your back to all the Indigenous folks – and you speak to the panel, and you’re speaking to the proponents to the to the mining company.

So right there, after six and a half years in learning about respectful engagement, I was having a little like, post graduation crisis. And I was going up there to speak about the importance of this landscape, to the Indigenous community members who were sat behind me, and I was gonna have my back to them. And I was, I was just, I had prepared and prepared and prepared I was I, you know, I felt really like this was my chance to offer something of usefulness to the community.

But before I went up, I just felt so rotten, like I just, it was defying everything about respectful engagement that I had learned, like, here, I am speaking for you. And you’re right there, you’re right there behind me. And I went to the back of the room, and at the time, the chief of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, whose territory this was in, was former chief Marilyn Baptiste and, and I had this like, mini crisis.

I kind of went to her and I was like, Marilyn, this does not feel right. Like I am gonna go up there, I’ve got my back to you. You know, this is your knowledge. I cannot speak to this. What if they asked me questions, there’s stuff that I don’t know. And that I ought not to know. And that I’m quite aware of your Elders didn’t share with me, because I am a non-Indigenous person.

So there’s, like, key aspects of this, like meanings in the place where the mine is proposed for and I was gonna go up there and talk to the panel and be like this place is sacred, it’s culturally important for these reasons. And they said, if they asked me, “What about it is important?”

I don’t know because I had the respect to not even ask that question beyond a point with the Elders. This just feels wrong. And bless her heart. Marilyn looked at me and calmed me down and said, you need to do this. You have just spent six years studying this topic. You’ve got a degree. And don’t you worry. We know that we’re the Knowledge Holders.

Like this isn’t threatening to us. You’re not threatening our status like, you don’t, you don’t threaten me. Like she was absolutely in control. She was like, I know that this is our territory. This is our land. We have this knowledge. What you are is a bridge. You get up there and you use that degree that you earned. You use that language that you learned how to speak in the halls of academia and you use that right now to help us. Make them listen to what we’re saying. That’s your role. That’s your job.

Exit guitar music 22:52