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On this Treaty Day, I Commit To…

On Monday, September 28th, my son came home from grade 1 with an exciting announcement: his class had earned enough gems in their gem jar to be awarded a pajama day! He informed us we were to send him to school on Wednesday in his pjs. But actually the school had other plans. During the day, his teacher had sent an email home that Wednesday was Orange Shirt Day, and that PJ day would be moved to Thursday. It is hard to speak to a six year old about what Orange Shirt Day is for, and why it is more important than pajama day. How much do I tell him? Where do I start?

Megan Bailey

But what I realized was that even though it was a hard conversation to have, it was the right conversation to have. I also wondered if my lack of knowledge around the colonial history of Canada growing up was because my parents were too afraid to have the hard conversations. Or maybe because they didn’t know about our history either because their parents were too afraid. Today (October 1) is Treaty Day in Nova Scotia. A day that kicks off Mi’kmaq History Month. A day where we are meant to honour the relationships between Mi’kmaq and Nova Scotians. Today I pledge to have the hard conversations with my kids, my extended family, my students, my colleagues, my community, and myself.

This year, 2020, Treaty Day happens to follow two weeks of unrest in the province. As a lab, we have been discussing these developments. Some of us work directly with Indigenous partners and commercial fish harvesters in our work. Some of us work with national governments on developing equitable approaches to resource allocation. Some of us work with the corporate seafood sector on social and environmental responsibility. Because our work often intersects with rights, equity and justice, and because we are all humans sharing space on Turtle Island, we decided for Treaty Day we would share the things we are thinking about as a lab, or as individuals, and the kinds of actions we commit to taking. These actions we commit to taking so that the current and next generations can live in a more educated, more compassionate, and more just world. What follows are individual contributions from lab members. 

Rachael Cadman

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the axiom “the more you know, the more you realize you do not know”. I work on Indigenous fisheries management for my PhD, and I can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking I know all there is to know about the state of Indigenous fisheries in Atlantic Canada. The past few weeks have reminded me that I, a white settler academic, understand little about the lived – daily, visceral – experience of colonized Indigenous peoples or their continuing struggle to have their rights recognized. How could I? I will never experience systemic racism directed at myself and my community, nor did my ancestors. We often characterize “not knowing” something as a weakness, particularly in academia; after all, we are meant to be experts. But of course it is impossible to know everything. Knowledges are distributed among us, held communally, and shared. I think that what I am learning is when to recognize the limits of my expertise, and when it is therefore time to stop talking and to listen to Indigenous voices.  

In my own work, I am trying to emulate this principle in 3 ways. First, by aligning my research questions with needs and priorities that have been identified by Indigenous organizations in Nunatsiavut, where I work. Indigenous-led research is a step in the path towards self-determination, and so I commit to hearing their research questions and helping to find answers. Secondly, I commit to centering Indigenous voices in my work. This will happen in many ways – through the prioritization of Indigenous scholars in my citations, by replicating Indigenous sources and study participants in their own words wherever possible, and through creative means like the inclusion of art and other media of expression. Finally, I will continue to return to these reminders of what I still do not know, and what I cannot claim to own, so that I can share my knowledge with others where I can, and use my platform to create space for Indigenous experts where I do not hold the answers. 

Hekia Bodwich

I joined the Bailey lab this September, as a postdoctoral fellow, to begin work in Arctic Canada. My background includes work with Indigenous fishers in New Zealand and underrepresented farmers in California, on strategies to promote community development. In light of the difficulties Mi-kmaq, Nunatsiavut and other Indigenous groups have faced in their attempts to use their treaty rights to support Indigenous fishers, I have been thinking through strategies governments elsewhere have adopted to support historically disadvantaged groups. These strategies include processes related to how: (1) research is funded and evaluated; (2) commercial business licenses are allocated; and (3) commodities are certified. Over the next several months, I hope to better understand the specific development constraints Indigenous groups in Canada face, to help illuminate which – if any – of these processes can be developed to advance Indigenous interests in Canada. 

Laurenne Schiller

There was a running joke in my family that I made it to Africa before I ever saw Vancouver Island. As a kid growing up in Vancouver, BC this didn’t make a lot of sense geographically. But it was true. And, as much as I remember vibrant sunsets and thrilling encounters with African wildlife, I remember other things too. I was ten years old when I visited South Africa in 1999, less than a decade after their national Apartheid legislation was repealed and just as Nelson Mandela’s term as the first President of South Africa was ending. And it is the memories I have related to these circumstances that have lingered the longest and left the greatest impression on my life.

I remember being in Cape Town and seeing faded remnant signs for ‘blacks’ and ‘whites only’ at building entrances and water fountains. I remember visiting a museum on the history of segregation in District Six, part of the city where tens of thousands of Coloured residents were removed by force by the prevailing government regime in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember looking through the bars of Nelson Mandela’s two-metre wide jail cell on Robben Island, a place he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. I remember a quiet scene at dusk, looking down a street in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg. Here, a young boy named Hector Pieterson was shot and killed by police during a student protest against the introduction of the Afrikaans language in local schools. I remember my Mom reading aloud passages of Long Walk to Freedom and Cry, the Beloved Country as we sat together in bed.

As strange as it seemed to my family that I had travelled halfway around the world before seeing the capital city of my home province, in retrospect it is equally strange that, as a child, my perception of racism and segregation was that it was something that happened outside of Canada. It was something that happened in far-off places. While I learned first-hand about the crimes against humanity that occurred in South Africa before I was a teenager, it was not until my mid-20s that I started to learn the truth of similar injustices incurred by Indigenous Peoples at the hands of colonial immigrants and the Canadian government throughout history. The story told in my elementary and high school classes was incomplete and, as I am learning now, biased. And it is these biases that perpetuate systemic racism in our country today.

Although I grew up largely ignorant to the true history of my country that does not mean I should stay ignorant to it. In fact, it is imperative that I do not. I accept that there is no quick or easy fix but, fortunately, knowledge acquisition in a life-long process. And with regard to understanding the history of Canada and working toward a less prejudiced and more inclusive future, I acknowledge I am only just beginning.

Tu Nguyen

I moved to Atlantic Canada this summer to join Megan’s lab as a Postdoctoral Fellow. With a background in economics, this is my first exposure where issues with Indigenous fisheries intersect with my professional career. My training in natural resource economics was quite removed from social “real-life” issues. I was taught to strictly focus on topics such as stock management, and abstract theory such as “utility maximization” while thinking of equity topics as “beyond the realm of our research,” aka somebody else’s problem. 

As a result, I have over the years trained myself to mentally separate “work life” and “personal life.” But this mindset is damaging, and there are two ways I can combat this within my circle of influence. On a personal level, I am going to keep learning about the challenges facing Mi-kmaq, Nunatsiavut and other Indigenous groups as a direct result of systemic racism. I am reading more indigenous media content to gain a balanced view and not one that only perpetuates white supremacy. On a professional level, Megan’s lab, led by Megan and supported by all her wonderful students, is showing me that I don’t have to pretend Indigenous issues do not exist in economics. Instead, it is my job to contribute to the literature and include the discussion in my research. Only then will my research be able to inform policy that truly addresses equitable issues. 

Shannon Landovskis

Today, on Treaty Day, I am reflecting on why, as a white settler, I have heard and participated in so few conversations on treaty education, Indigenous rights, and even the history of colonization. There are certainly many, many factors at play here, but the one that resonates with me the most is fear and discomfort around saying the wrong thing.

A common theme in 2020 has been the notion of “impact over intention”. I used to think that if you said something that hurt someone, but you had meant well, then it was okay – it was just an accident or a misunderstanding. But as I have grown, my feelings on this have changed. I do still believe that your intentions matter, just not more than your impact. As individuals, we are responsible for the impact of our words and actions. But then I think: how can I know what impact I will have? Every single person is different. Every single person has different experiences and personalities. How can I possibly know what impact I will have on someone? These thoughts swirl around inside my head and my fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, all too often, results in my doing nothing at all. However, my reflections on this have since expanded: yes, as individuals, we are responsible for the impact of our words and actions, but we are also responsible for the impact of our silence and inaction. In other words, doing nothing counts as doing something.

I read something not long ago that said that it is a privilege to be able to decide if you want to engage in an uncomfortable conversation or not. This really struck me. It was a component of privilege that I had never identified in myself – the ability to choose comfort instead of discomfort (alternatively, to choose comfort instead of courage). As a white settler in Canada, I get to decide if and when I want to open myself up to criticism, if I want to make myself vulnerable, if I want to stand up for what is right or if I want to sit silently by so that I don’t risk “saying the wrong thing”. Because the unfortunate truth is, if I speak up, then I will sometimes say the wrong thing. And then I am fully responsible for the harm I cause. However, I no longer use that as an excuse for my silence. Instead, I work to reduce my chances of harming someone. For me, this entails reflecting on when I should act as opposed to when I should sit back and listen, continuously educating myself, and listening to others when they share experiences with me. Then, when the time comes for action, I am better able to speak up. If I say or do something that results in harm to another person, I apologize wholeheartedly, thank them for using their time and energy to tell me, and then take some time to reflect on what I could do differently in the future. I do not find this easy and I certainly do not find it comfortable, but this is more important than my comfort. This is something I have been working towards and will continue to work towards. My goals are that my impact and my intention will align more often than not, that I will have the courage to graciously accept responsibility whenever I cause someone harm, and that I will never stop trying.

This Treaty Day, I am committing to educating myself and engaging in the conversations necessary for the pursuit of reconciliation. I acknowledge that this will be a lifelong process.

Kayla Hamelin

In my educational experience growing up, the acknowledgement of present-day Canada as unceded Indigenous land was virtually non-existent. As a white settler, I remember learning about Indigenous peoples in elementary school, but primarily in history class. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals and communities were introduced in past tense. I recall having to choose a First Nations group to study for a class project and I chose the Beothuk of Newfoundland – a group of people who literally no longer exist because of European colonialism. But again, that was in the past.

This morning, celebrated Inuit throat singer and author Tanya Tagaq tweeted, “I went to residential school. The last one closed in 1996. This isn’t deep history this is our present day.” I was in public school myself in 1996.

Recent conflicts should be a sharp reminder to us all that colonialism is not a shameful part of our history, but remains woven into the fabric of our society. The reality is that there are important opportunities now, and on an ongoing basis, to both know better and, consequently, to do better as settler Canadians. I have been working hard to listen, to learn, and to act accordingly, both as a researcher and as an inhabitant of this land. This Treaty Day, I commit to finding more opportunities to pursue reconciliation, and I am grateful for the support of our lab group in this important journey.

Hussain Sinan

Coming from the Maldives to Canada, it was a shock to me on a personal level to see and witness the struggles of Indigenous communities. We only hear good things about Canada and never about the injustices.

I did a book review on “The truth that Wampum Tells” by Gehl, L in my first year of my PhD. It was totally an eye opener about the struggles of Indigenous communities. The book narrated the first 15 years of the Algonquin land claims process and brought light to the complexity and unfairness in the process. The Government of Canada used every tactic in negotiations to delay or disrupt the process such as setting unrealistic timelines, creating barriers for women to participate, influencing the electoral process by appointing key people, frustrate the opponent in the negotiation table by creating divisions through lack of community consultations, misleading information about the consultation dates and processes, destroying information vital for the electoral process and lack of transparency and accountability of the process.  Her quote in the book, still shocks me – “Canada is a heartless nation state”

Relating to my research, the Mi’kmaw fishery struggles have similar characteristics to the struggles of developing states in the Indian Ocean. Though, the developing states have the right for the fish in their waters under international law, for the purpose of allocation of rights the colonizers have refused to accept this. The colonizers believe what they have caught in the past and got rich has to be accounted for when future rights are allocated as well.

I aspire through my research and my engagements to empower myself and others to fight for inclusivity, equality, fairness and justice.

Melina Kourantidou

I moved to Atlantic Canada in the beginning of 2019 to work with fisheries management in indigenous communities of Northern Labrador, Nunatsiavut. 

Trained as an environmental and resource economist and working with fisheries in (mostly the European part of) the Arctic, I knew very little on what to expect or how to frame my research questions in a manner valued by resource users – fishers in these communities. Traditional academic training – western science – does not adequately prepare you for that. 

Although broadly familiar with resource-related challenges across Indigenous communities of the Arctic, from all the time I’ve invested in Arctic fora, conferences and meetings, it was only when I started working for this project and found myself physically in Atlantic Canada, that I realized how arduous this was going to be. 

I was aware of the marginalization of Indigenous peoples, their disempowerment and lack of opportunities compared to non-Indigenous resource users. What I wasn’t aware of was all the effort that goes into the reconciliation process on behalf of the federal government in Canada. I felt, and still do, that Canada is way better positioned than a lot of other countries globally to address the rights of marginalized resource users. Almost two years after working in this project, I feel confident that the amount of effort is disproportionate to intended outcomes, especially with respect to how poorly integrated Indigenous rights continue to be in resource management. 

With the recent incidents in Mi’kmaq lobster fisheries in Nova Scotia, that I was previously unaware of, I feel that a) much more work remains to be done on reconciling conflicting user interests b) there is a need for a greater recognition that natural sciences alone can not offer solutions to these problems/conflicts c)  efforts to reconcile conflicting interests should be ongoing and open to all, if fisheries are to be managed for the greater public good d) ensure that all voices can be heard for the sake of those without stakes in the fishery who wish to form an unbiased opinion (all users and rightsholders, indigenous communities and scholars, natural and social scientists). 

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