Creative Commons License
This work by Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Full Transcript: Episode 4

Bridges and Barriers Between Indigenous and Western Ways of Knowing

Intro guitar music 0:00
Daniel De Kok 0:15

The interactions and collisions between Western science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems were described by ( Knowledge Systems) Stream members in ways that were frequently critical and yet often helpful.

In this episode, I’ve captured the variety of viewpoints by including segments from my interviews with the following Stream members, Jennifer Silver, Andrea Reid, Karen Beazley, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Nathan Cardinal, Gita Ljubicic.

Jennifer Silver 0:44

Western science tends to like to make, to maybe have some field-focused, very small scale studies, but in order to make broad generalizations beyond the particular place or region, I think there’s some tension there sometimes, right?

Because in Indigenous knowledge systems as I as, as a non-Indigenous academic, understand them are quite, you know, place-based, relational, multigenerational in their, in their basis. So I think there can be some tensions there.

But really question formulation is very important to my mind anyway, as… because that… we’re not asking the right question or not asking it in the right way.

And in a good way, then it doesn’t really matter. To my mind, I think it doesn’t matter. Or taking the right methods still doesn’t, can’t compensate for the fact that the question has been posed in the right way.

Andrea Reid 1:41

It’s really about taking that time to not rush through the process, Western science has such a habit of really being geared towards doing research in a really fast way and pushing people towards an insane level of productivity that is deemed acceptable.

And in that realm, that really runs counter to a lot of the methods and approaches that we employ that require taking time and checking in with why we’re doing this work.

Karen Beazley 2:17

Research with Indigenous people has got to be relevant for Indigenous people. To impose the question would be not very respectful. So I think that a key part is developing relationships with Indigenous communities. If you’re going to be conducting research, wanting to conduct research with, or for, or about Indigenous people, relationship is key.

It’s important to develop this relationship so that there is trust within the community and between the researcher and the community.

And this is because there have been really abysmal examples in the past, and they continue today where people have, like parachuted into a community, grabbed the Indigenous knowledge, taken off, almost claimed it as their own. And people have built careers on this kind of behaviour.

And what also happens is this Indigenous knowledge is then taken and then forced into western systems. So it’s kind of like taking round balls and force them into square holes or something, which is not respectable, not respectful of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, which are quite different from Western knowledge system.

So it’s important that the Indigenous community be involved in… in the conversation around will the research even take place? What is the question that’s going to be asked, Is this relevant to their community? Is it a priority of theirs to know this? Is this something – how is it going to help them?

You know, because there’s a reciprocity aspect to it, this is their knowledge and you want to be able to give it back to them and you want it to be important with them, you want them to be engaged in the research and that includes in deciding what the questions are, in deciding whether or not this research can take place in their community. Do they want it or not?

What kind of, how will the questions be asked? How will the research be done? Will it be done in culturally appropriate methodology – Indigenous methodologies?

Will, will ceremony and stories be welcome? You know, are you trying to do research in Indigenous communities using a Western scientific framework which might not, you know, be respectful at first, in one way, but also not be effective in another?

So, these are key things if you want to do research: reach out first. Get them involved and engage and see if they want to be partners or work with you at all. And what are their priorities and questions? And how might they be best asked?

And also engaged in analyzing those data, you know, if data are gathered, then what do you make of that? Engage them in deciding those things and drawing the conclusions. What conclusions make sense to them from this data?

So, these are all really important things to do. And, you know, as university or government research ethics boards, it’s important for these boards to remember that they cannot, they really cannot approve research in Indigenous communities or indigenous territories, per se.

That’s up to those Indigenous communities to decide, then communities have the right to decide or approve these, the research or not. And REBs (Research Ethics Boards) need to respect that. So although REBs, research ethics boards, are important for, you know, having some oversight over their own researchers, they need to recognize that their approval alone is not enough for research that engages Indigenous communities and engages with Indigenous lands. And some people think that, oh, well, that’s only relevant if you’re doing research with human subjects.

If we’re only going to be, we’re going to be talking to Indigenous people, or maybe we’re not even going to be talking to Indigenous people, we’re going to go on to their land and do this survey about salmon or something, you know, a scientific field study. Well, that might make sense from a Western perspective, but from an Indigenous perspective, that’s all part of their community.

Andrea Reid 6:45

The four ‘R’s of Indigenous research really characterize my work as much as possible. They are what we aspire to do in everything that we do in our work: to making sure that research is relevant, that it is respectful, that it’s reciprocal, that it is responsible.

And so that has profound implications for all the choices that we make through the process to ensure that what we’re doing is ethical, that it’s equitable.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 7:15

This is a plug for the plug for the social scientists out there. Yes. I think this works best with interdisciplinary teams of people, including Indigenous knowledge holders, and experts. Who all recognize and respect each other’s expertise. That kind of qualitative analysis that I mentioned.

It takes years of training to do that well. The kind of biological research that we might want to support Indigenous initiatives, and to bring into Indigenous-led stewardship also takes years of training.

I think we need to be careful about hiring one or two technicians who have training in one of those areas and asking them to do it all. So here’s something that doesn’t happen very often, you don’t often get a social scientist hired to work with an Indigenous knowledge system, and then see them asked to undertake an extensive population study of moose in the area and explain, you know, the biological dynamics of why those populations are declining. You might, but it doesn’t happen.

Often, you do very frequently, see biologists hired and asked to engage with Indigenous knowledge, either without any training, or with maybe a textbook or one course. Now, to get registered as a professional in that field, you need years, you need to demonstrate years of training and experience.

And I would say that as we grow to respect the complexity of Indigenous knowledge, we ought to be recognizing that Indigenous Knowledge Holders bring years of training and years of wisdom and actually generations in many cases to the table. So we need to respect that depth of expertise that they have and that they hold. And that, that act of interpretation for the social scientists.

Similarly, there’s a lot that goes into doing that properly. And if you ask someone who hasn’t been taught to do well to do it, you’re, you’re running risks of, you know, at best shoddy data, and outcomes, at worst, doing some serious cultural damage.

Jennifer Silver 10:17

Sort of larger collaborative projects were in their indigenous leaders and collaborators and knowledge holders alongside academics, some of whom are Indigenous themselves, but also folks from government and the nonprofit sector where we’re tackling questions.. that the project I’m involved in… have been tackling questions of basically how to, again, use the word ‘integrate’ Western scientific approaches.

Specifically, quantitative modeling efforts, and how to integrate, or to undertake those in a way that are respectful of and and meaningfully use Indigenous knowledge. And so it’s different in some ways. And my earliest exposure to Indigenous knowledges.

And it’s very difficult, because Western science approaches are very, you know, long, long or tightly held and have been developed in very particular ways within the academy and applied in particular ways and decision making. And so there are always very big questions about the, whether it’s appropriate at all to be incorporating Indigenous knowledges and if so how?

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 11:27

Things like, on the qualitative data side, you know, interviewing focus groups, sometimes certain forms of like a mapping. On the quantitative, it may be any number of, sort of techniques from conservation biology, like camera trapping, you know, measuring plants or water temperature, those are just examples, right, we’ve got a suite of quantitative ways of gathering information.

Most often, when dealing with Indigenous Knowledge Systems, we want to be leveraging qualitative methods. We might employ quantitative data gathering methods in service of Indigenous knowledge, but you’re not, it’s very difficult to convey Indigenous knowledge in any kind of quantitative way. So the first thing that’s important to sort of establish, I think, is it’s key for me as a researcher, as a professional, to know the limits of my own knowledge.

And any good researcher will do that, right? It’s standard practice in reports, in peer reviewed articles to have a methodology section. And often to have a limitations section that says, “Here are the parameters of what we did.” “Here’s what that means.”

So we do that in science, we say, we have a confidence interval, statistically, or we’ll say here was the sample size, this means we can extrapolate to x population, or x geographical space. And it sets boundaries around. What it is that we can conclude, from what we’ve learned. The same happens in working with, qualitatively, with Indigenous knowledge.

It ought to anyway. And a key thing is, it’s not for me to interpret Indigenous knowledge, per se. The expertise to do that rests with Knowledge Holders, and often people who have a fair degree of expertise within their own knowledge systems.

So they might have the contextual understanding of, of, of deep learning over years. And that can look different in their own cultures in their own knowledge systems. So part of that then comes with holding space for each Indigenous knowledge system to have its own ways of interpreting and validating.

It’s so itself, it’s, it’s knowledge. But what I can do, and what I have to do, in my role, helping to support the articulation of Indigenous knowledge, is like you said, there’s some interpretation of data, right? There’s some repetition of information. And so we have to interplay, that’s where the relationship with knowledge holders comes in.

So that realization about Indigenous ways of knowing for me came from a methodology called coding of interview data. So you would take a transcript, and you would read that interview. And note all the things that are talked about in it and categorize those by subject. And then you go back, and you read that again, and you look at the ways in which people are talking about things.

So maybe you would have labels where you’re like, you know, strong emotion about this, or observations about that. And you start looking at you’re, you’re interpreting your data methodologically in certain ways, that gives you insight to how people are talking about things and what they’re talking about. That’s an example that I’ve since brought to bear in working with knowledge systems.

Nathan Cardinal 16:07

These traditional techniques, traditional knowledge that’s behind them, are going to be able to lead to restoration, and build in resiliency to things like climate change in ways that we never, ever could achieve and thinking about it from a sort of an industrialized scientific perspective.

And that is enabled by having people on the ground and, and working with people to change assumptions, and change how we approach this to generate more informed decisions.

And being able to use techniques like science, it’s not to say that all science is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they will use tech, the science techniques like science, to be able to support a more informed understanding and a more holistic perspective.

You know, if you got a soccer ball, and you’re only looking at it from one side, well, you think everything looks like a soccer ball, but you could easily have a giant hole on the other side.

Gita Ljubicic 17:07

In some projects, we focus mainly on learning from Inuit knowledge. And the goal isn’t really connecting it to the scientific knowledge in the end. The goal is really just understanding from community perspectives, and being able to share that because it’s not always well represented beyond the community.

It’s well known in the community. But being able to share that with an academic or government audience is really valuable in itself. It doesn’t have to connect to scientific initiatives, there can be value in that and wherever there’s interest in that, from the community perspective, we’re always still starting with Inuit knowledge. And then like I said, bringing in the science to complement or to expand or to get at a particular issue that you just can’t get at any other way.

Jonaki Bhattacharyya 17:56

I see my role as one of bringing professional expertise to a relationship where it’s my job to make things work for my indigenous partners as closely as we can in their framework, in their knowledge system. Rather than expecting them to go 90% of the way to translate to a format that works, or is familiar to the world that I’m coming from.

Exit guitar music 18:28