Jessica’s research expands on Women in Fish: We Have Stories, a twenty-minute documentary film that is inspired by Coast Salish / Sahtu Dene storyteller Rosemary Georgeson’s experiences in the commercial fishing industry, and playwright Marie Clement's longstanding project Women in Fish: Hours of Water. Jessica and Rosemary are creating a feature-length documentary film and interview archive that explores the interconnections between Indigenous women's labor, water, fish, and urbanization.

Faculty of Arts
Geraldine Pratt
Kanien’kehá:ka territory, Montreal
Research Description

My research renders visible the relationship between urbanization, water, and Indigenous women’s labor in the 'lower mainland'. The goals of my research are to refine our current understanding of the role that Indigenous women's labor played in the early urbanization of Vancouver and the industrialization of British Columbia, and to draw out continuities to our present moment. I trace Indigenous women's resistance through time and show that within this nexus of powers, of forced movements, of constrained spaces, and of economic violences, Indigenous women have always strategically used their labor to negotiate, to curtail, to resist, and to elide the central logics of settler colonialism. My PhD research uses visual archives, interviews, testimonials, and creative works to read reconfigurations of Indigenous women’s labor in relation to settler colonial dispossession and urban growth. I’m interested in how gendered archival occlusions map onto settler colonial law and territorial dispossession.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Public scholars work at the intersection of academia and community based research and practice. Their work entails a range of research methods that come from a research methodology that is grounded in a critical ethical relationships with people / communities / organizations that are directly impacted by (and impact) the researcher, the research process, and the research itself. 

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

I think that there are great examples in Europe of innovative, creative PhDs that aren’t restricted to Fine Arts degrees. I also think that there are examples from UBC and from British Columbia of dissertations that have challenged the boundaries of what a PhD is – and have challenged institutions to do better. For example, world-renowned Nisga’a architect Patrick Stewart wrote the first draft of his dissertation in Nisga'a – and was reportedly told that his work was not acceptable. He was asked to translate 'every word' of his dissertation into English. I think it is important to create PhD experiences that are based on how people connect their work to territory, Nation, community, language, and expression. It would be wonderful to create a community of doctoral students who are working 'outside of the box'. 

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

As a filmmaker and planner I hoped that my PhD would enable me to critically reflect and reorient my work – and in this process also reorient myself – towards questions and relationships that I had in many ways avoided. I hoped that my PhD would connect me with more opportunities to make films, and also connect me with inspiring ideas and people that could help to shape my approach to filmmaking and community based work. At the same time, I also hoped that my PhD would be of interest within academia – connecting educators and their research to audiences beyond the academy. 

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My research comes out of an ongoing relationship with Rosemary Georgeson and her play / performance 'Women in Fish'. Together we are researching the histories of Indigenous women in the fishing industry as well as trying to find more information about two of her Indigenous grandmothers. Rosemary and I are working on expanding a film 'We Have Stories: Women in Fish' and Rosemary, as a storyteller and playwright is also writing a performance piece that is based on the stories of her grandmothers. We will be screening the film throughout BC, submitting it to festivals, and also having a workshop on Galiano Island. Rosemary and I are also working together on the performance piece.

What does reaching graduation mean to you? 

This moment is possible because of the incredible community of mentors, colleagues, friends, relatives and ancestors that I have been surrounded by. Graduating has enabled me to reflect on how important this support and engagement has been. I'm grateful to the many generations of powerful, brilliant women who have helped create the space for me to walk this path. It is especially significant that I was able to share so much of this journey with Rosemary Georgeson, who was a research collaborator throughout the dissertation. I'm grateful that in the end, Rose was able to reconnect with her family, and I was able to graduate!

Looking back over the past several years, what will you miss most of your PhD journey?

I'll miss having a curated list of which books and articles to read, I'll miss collaborating with other scholars, I'll miss the silence and joy of sitting and spending a whole day writing.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I'm uneasy with the term 'public good'.  I am interested in the question of where academic research travels (and from where), and where it does not. I am grateful that I can work with Rosemary to help her find her ancestors and to write about them. I am also grateful that we have an opportunity to work together, in different ways, to share stories of Indigenous women in the fishing industry. More of these stories should be told – and I do think that our work is about working together to tell stories that have been erased, to begin to decolonize and unpack some of the connections between Indigenous women, water, and fish.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

As the recipient of a generous scholarship I wanted to use the resources at my disposal as an academic to create research projects and films that resonated beyond the academy. At the same time I was also interested in respectfully and carefully putting the incredible work that happens outside of academia into conversation with critical theory.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

When I first arrived in Vancouver over a decade ago I was unaware that I was moving to unceded Coast Salish territory. Being here has pushed me to think about my privileges as a white settler and academic, and I am incredibly grateful for the close friendships and creative collaborations that have come with this connection to place and to my own identity. It was important for me to stay here and to honor what I had been taught. 


It is important to create PhD experiences that are based on how people connect their work to territory, Nation, community, language, and expression. It would be wonderful to create a community of doctoral students who are working 'outside of the box'.