PWIAS: Indigenous Voices

November 16, 2021

PWIAS supported innovative projects conducted in partnership with Indigenous communities.  Projects addressed issues affecting First Nations in Canada, such as poor water quality, access to health care, and social vulnerabilities, as well as issues faced by Indigenous people in Brazil and Colombia. Researchers engaged directly with community members to learn Indigenous ways of knowledge sharing and worked together to develop practices and solutions that respect and reflect cultural and social values.

Turning Points

Turning Points is a series of eight short films about alcohol use, addiction, resilience and healing in Yellowknife, directed by Indigenous storytellers. This project provided a platform for people from Indigenous communities across the Canadian North to connect, share their experiences and tap into storytelling traditions that have been used to connect and heal people for centuries. Led by Peter Klein (Journalism) and produced by the Global Reporting Centre at UBC, the films have aired on PBS Newshour to a broadcast and online audience of over 2 million viewers. (September 2021)

Muriel Betsina, Yellowknife Dene Elder (1943 – 2019)

Protecting the Amazon

Proposed legislation and a landmark case in Brazil’s highest court would remove laws that protect the Amazon rain forest and other ecologically sensitive areas. The Federation of the Huni Kui Indigenous people of Acre in the Brazilian Amazon, has issued a call for the world to pay attention to ecocide and genocide. The Huni Kui and other guardians of the Amazon are putting their lives on the line to defend the world’s largest rainforest, as well as humankind’s chance to have a future. PWIAS Interim Director, Vanessa Andreotti and PWIAS Indigenous Wall Scholar, Chief Ninawa Huni Kui, are working to promote awareness of these challenges through a global education campaign. (August 2021)

The future of the Amazon rainforest must be a priority – if we lose it, we lose our future.

Clean Drinking Water for Rural First Nations

2016 Wall Scholar Madjid Mohseni (Chemical and Biological Engineering) worked with remote First Nations communities who do not have a clean drinking water supply. “For me, trust and building the relationship with the community was most important,” says Dr. Mohseni. This approach led to the RES’EAU Community Circle, a unique model that finds solutions tailored to the individual community and reflect local social-cultural values. Researchers work closely with water operators and community members to understand constraints and identify research priorities. The remote Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation in northern BC first teamed up with Mohseni’s team in 2014. Their water treatment facility came on line in 2021. (July 2021)

The Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation has clean drinking water for the first time in 20 years. (Photo: RES’EAU, 2021)

Decolonizing Dictionaries

For endangered and Indigenous languages, dictionaries are valuable resources that contain understandings beyond the meaning of words, and offer insights into language structure and traditional, cultural knowledge. 2019 Wall Scholar Mark Turin is part of the Relational Lexicography project, working to better understand how dictionaries of Indigenous and under-resourced languages are created and used by communities and scholars alike. Researchers are working with Rosalind Williams and Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn (Splatsin Teaching Centre) in the Secwepemc Nation to review current dictionaries with Elders to ensure that the information is relevant and correct. (April 2020)

Dictionary-making creates capacity in Indigenous communities (Photo: Sarah Kyllo, Salmon Arm Observer)

Reclaiming Victims of Mass Violence

Pilar Riano-Alcala (Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice) worked with the Committee for the Rights of the Victims of Bojayá to support victims of violence in Colombia, enabling mass graves to be exhumed, identified and reburied in a manner consistent with traditional community practices. The war in Colombia spanned five decades.  Between 2006 and 2016 alone, 5,267 mass graves were found and 60,699 persons were identified as missing, most from Indigenous and Black communities. These communities are now leading processes on the rightful ceremonies and practices to exhume, identify, and rebury their dead, at times clashing with government-led forensic scientific teams. Dr. Riano-Alcala’s team developed a “best practices” resource and knowledge outputs (life histories and video letters) for distribution at local, regional, national and international levels. (November 2019)

Traditional funeral rites for reclaimed victims of Bojaya massacre (Photo: Truth Commission)

Haida Gwaii Herring Fishery

UBC fisheries researchers, Tony Pitcher, Mimi Lam and Evgeny Pakhomov (Institute for Fisheries and Oceans), in partnership with the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), led a 2015 Wall Solutions project that explored an innovative management framework based on combining ecological modelling with traditional Haida values. This integrated approach facilitates inclusive, transparent, and accountable decision-making among diverse stakeholders. Policy makers and civil society can weigh the consequences of alternative management approaches and work to resolve resource conflicts. (June 2019)

Herring spawn on British Columbia coast (Photo: Ian McAllister, Pacific Wild Alliance)

Talking Circles for Healing

In Canada, and elsewhere, Indigenous people who use illicit drugs and/or alcohol experience a disproportionate burden of HIV-related harm. Members of the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) worked with Thomas Kerr (UBC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS) to address the complex issues faced by the Indigenous community. Using Indigenous Talking Circles to gather data about their peers’ experiences with HIV, WAHRS members became the researchers. They examined policies and practices that shape inequities and generated recommendations for culturally relevant and safe HIV treatment options. Better Harm Reduction with Heart, was produced by WAHRS to document the experiences of Indigenous people who use illicit drugs and/or alcohol. (March 2018)

“When you talk into a Talking Circle it stays there. It’s a time to heal.” (Tracey Morrison, July 2016)

Indigenizing the Academy

Shelly Johnson, Canada Research Chair in Indigenizing Higher Education at Thompson Rivers University, received a $500K SSHRC Insight Grant to support the strengthening of Musqueam culture and language through the revitalization of their canoe-building tradition. A former PWIAS Early Career Scholar and researcher at UBC’s School of Social Work, Dr. Johnson sees her commitment to community engagement as one way to strengthen ties between Indigenous people and international academy. Her current research aims to develop knowledge capacity in urban Aboriginal communities with a focus on culture and language revitalization, child welfare, and justice issues. (July 2016)

“I want to be a part of research that is meaningful to Indigenous peoples, is respectful and relevant of our ways of knowing, being and doing.”