Being a public scholar means being accountable to communities’ experiences and priorities. I practice this responsibility by ensuring that my research inquiries are responsive to community voices, that processes are accessible, and that outputs are applicable and relevant to those impacted.
Indigenous food systems in so-called Canada have been and continue to be impacted by colonization. For many communities whose ancestral food systems include seed keeping and agriculture, this has put culturally significant seed stocks at risk and has resulted in fragmented knowledge about cultural seed and food crop systems. Indigenous knowledge revitalization and food sovereignty movements are gaining momentum, but concurrently, climate change is adding both urgency and risk to communities’ efforts. With climate change creating increasingly unpredictable growing seasons, communities are working to restore their agricultural histories, cultural crops, and food culture knowledges in order to be equipped to adapt seed varieties for changing conditions. Sovereign Seeds, a national by-and-for Indigenous organization, is responding to this need by piloting the Community-Led Restorative Research Program, an Indigenous agricultural food system revitalization program with a process that supports communities in restoring their food system knowledge gaps to prepare for crop adaptation climate action. The Program partners with Indigenous communities to restore their agricultural food cultures, histories, technologies, and practices through archival and inter- and intra-community oral research. Where these gaps cannot be restored by archival and oral means, the Program facilitates communities’ creation of new cultural and technical practices and protocols through a framework of data sovereignty, community self-determination, and storytelling. Using multiple Indigenous research methods and integrating multimodal documentation, I am exploring partners’ experiences in their food system restoration processes, including participant-identified successes and challenges and the impact of the Program’s process on their visions for their food systems. My doctoral research is studying the lifecycle of the Program with the goal of learning the efficacy of this process as a replicable and adaptable Indigenous food system revitalization intervention.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
In the context of my research, being a public scholar means being accountable to communities’ experiences and priorities. I practice this responsibility by ensuring that my research inquiries are responsive to community voices, that processes are accessible, and that outputs are applicable and relevant to those impacted. My responsibility in academic spaces also means a commitment to leveraging institutional supports and mobilizing resources to co-create tangible community-led outcomes. Although I do not believe academic institutions can be decolonized, applying public scholarship values to the PhD experience can make the degree a strategic pathway towards furthering decolonization. In doing Indigenist research, being a public scholar involves radically prioritizing sovereignty, consent, protocol, and an ethics of relational and insurgent action in ways that can conflict with with institutional processes. The PSI’s concept of public scholarship affirms these values and recognizes that for some scholars, good scholarship is, by necessity, scholarship that orients itself towards on-the-ground realities rather than towards a responsibility to the academy.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
There is justified critique from community voices of the relevance of a PhD, and as someone who was hesitant to pursue a doctoral degree in sharing these concerns, I am encouraged by the PSI’s mission to redefine its impact. The Public Scholars Initiative encourages scholars who create connections between academic scholarship and social contributions, and it redefines the value of the PhD by championing those who approach their studies towards public good. Through the PSI, I hope to advance these shared objectives and leverage the PhD to bridge disciplines and cultivate partnerships across institutional and community boundaries. The PSI also deepens my optimism about the ways doctoral students can find community in a network of values-aligned scholars, mentors, and advocates. The Initiative celebrates research projects that are innovative, creative, and interdisciplinary and that might otherwise be delegitimized or considered too unconventional. The opportunity to connect with likeminded peers through an program that affirms the value of diverse perspectives and approaches to knowledge mobilization is exciting and needed.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
My PhD studies are motivated by a desire to advance existing applied Indigenous community programming I lead. In my experience in grassroots initiatives and in the non-profit sector, I witnessed the barriers Indigenous food leaders and learners face in accessing safety, visibility, and resources to assert food sovereignty practice. I also encountered obstructions to participating in and facilitating entry for others to domestic and international decision-making about seed and land stewardship that impacts our communities and territories. As a mixed ancestry Saulteaux-Métis seed keeper and farmer, grassroots Indigenous food sovereignty work is my heart’s work, and it is important to my intergenerational cultural and political commitments to continue to contribute to this movement and these spaces through and beyond my doctoral studies. My hope is to apply the skills I develop during my studies to collaboratively reduce access barriers, amplify community experiences, and advance food sovereignty efforts in both research and non-profit avenues of action.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
Through Sovereign Seeds’ pilot program partnerships and network of collaborative relationships, my research engages with multiple Indigenous food sovereignty leaders and learners, initiatives, and communities in the design, delivery, and study of the Community-Led Restorative Research Program. The Program’s partners are the decision-makers in the development and tailored implementation of the process, including in defining markers of success, revisions to the framework, and the dissemination of insights and learnings as consensual case studies for other communities. My research documentation of partners’ experiences incorporates media methods they determine by partners themselves with the purpose of creating an output that is useful to them in internally capturing and/or publicly amplifying their initiatives and calls to action. As a process that involves the study of archival, oral, and facilitated knowledge creation approaches, my research will also engage public and private institutions with sources of cultural and historical relevance.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
Grassroots Indigenous agricultural and climate research projects are often gatekept from institutional knowledge and policy-making processes and are made to to surrender data sovereignty to access testing and monitoring analysis opportunities. There is a need for safe(r), sovereignty-centred conduits between non-academic community projects and academic research institutions. I see my PhD as an entry point to creating easier and more ethical channels of access for community initiatives. My experiences in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement both in and outside of academia also made me aware of how few institutional scholars studying Indigenous seed and food sovereignty are Indigenous themselves. Mobilizing resources in the non-profit sector often requires referencing academic literature to demonstrate project relevance, impact, and/or success. Further complicating this is the divide between institutionally recognized forms of inquiry and dissemination that can produce extractivist research and the lived realities of Indigenous food practitioners and knowledge holders. I hope to contribute scholarship in my area of study that models anti-oppressive knowledge production and translation, and my doctoral studies provides mentorship and collaboration opportunities to help make this possible.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
In my previous student experiences, I learned how transformative mentorship from an attentive Indigenous scholar can be to my academic development and success. My decision to study at UBC was strongly determined by Dr. Tabitha Robin’s scholarship and mentorship. As a leading scholar in my field of study, Dr. Robin’s research shaped my work prior to my studies at UBC, and her experience applying cultural ways of knowing, being, and doing in research contexts provides an ideal environment for my own research. My research is interdisciplinary and is strengthened by the cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives, and so my decision to study at UBC was also influenced by the Faculty of Land Food Systems’ Integrated Studies in Land and Food Systems (ISLFS) program. The ISLFS program generates a hub of distinct scholarship with community-focused approaches to food system questions.