Economic acceleration, the growth of large-scale projects, and responsive public policy improve the welfare of the public. But what about leveling the playing field in science for people who belong to groups that have historically been the targets of racism, colonization, and discrimination, and recognizing Indigenous worldviews and approaches to understanding our world?
In its efforts to limit bias and to foster systems that support transparency and reproducibility Open Science needs to constantly evaluate the underlying social norms and historical processes that ingrain bias into the scientific process. This, alongside an emphasis on science that is guided and led by those who will be most impacted by its outcomes and with partnerships and collaboration being core elements of practice, means that Open Science offers the opportunity to critically engage with and promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity in science.
As one step on the path to reconciliation, UBC Okanagan has established a research cluster — Enhancing Ecosystem Sustainability: A Syilx/Settler Science Collaboration — to combine Western science and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge to inform policy and practice that will fight climate change and ecological disruption. The cluster is co-lead by Dr. Jeannette Armstrong of the Syilx Okanagan Nation and Associate Professor of Indigenous Studies and Dr. Lael Parrott, Professor in Sustainability who directs the Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services (BRAES).
The researchers approach ecology as a complex web of relationships among humans, non-human animals, plants, and the land. Initially, the team will look at management and restoration of the grizzly bear and salmon habitats in the Okanagan Syilx territory.
Concern for the non-human beings with whom we share the Earth has always been central to the Syilx worldview. In January 2021, as a panelist in the Science and Systemic Racism: Indigenous Perspectives webinar, Dr. Armstrong spoke of the Syilx responsibility to tmixw (nsyilxcen for all lifeforms)
In the Syilx view, the human duty is to perceive how the tmixw are regenerating themselves and how therefore the human must move forward in unity with them. Immersion in the knowledge of tmixw allows us to view its reality and makes it possible for the aliveness of each separate life form (University of British Columbia, 2021).
The UBC Strategic Plan website quotes Dr. Parrott on some of the motivations for the partnership:
I’m hoping that we’ll serve as a model for how we, as academics, can do a better job of collaborating respectfully with Indigenous communities – with new ways of moving forward that treat the different ways of knowing equally and respectfully – and come up with perhaps a third way of viewing the world.
What really excites me is the opportunity to engage with the Syilx knowledge holders, to learn from their knowledge of the Okanagan landscape and the wildlife.
The Enhancing Ecosystem Sustainability project has taken an active role in engaging Indigenous youth. Its activities range from helping to weave traditional knowledge into elementary school education to planning for Indigenous science camps for teens. Indigenous graduate students are funded through the project, and play central roles in the research.
Interested in learning more about the work Drs. Armstrong and Parrott are doing together? A recording of the presentation they made at Green College (UBC Vancouver), hosted on YouTube, gives a good introduction to their project.