Q&A WITH DR. ANDREA REID
Indigenous fisheries scientist, conservation biologist, and Nisga’a Nation member Dr. Andrea Reid joins UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) this January as an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Fisheries Science and Principal Investigator of the new Centre for Indigenous Fisheries (CIF).
Dr. Reid comes to UBC from Carleton University, where she completed her PhD in Biology and received the Governor General’s Gold Medal and University Medal for Outstanding Graduate Work at the Doctoral Level. She is a Co-founder of Riparia, a National Geographic Explorer, and has worked extensively with Indigenous fisheries and fishers around the globe. She is excited to bring her experiences home and to collaborate on conservation initiatives with Nisga’a and other Indigenous Nations throughout BC and beyond.
The new CIF aims to support the management of aquatic ecosystems and fisheries via integrated approaches combining Indigenous knowledge systems and modern science. It will be part of UBC’s ongoing effort, and that of Indigenous communities, to decolonize research practices when they affect Indigenous peoples. Professor Emerita and fisheries historian Dr. Dianne Newell serves as the Interim Director, and a second faculty appointment is anticipated for the near future.
We had a chance to sit down and chat with Dr. Reid about her work, the new CIF and her views on community-engaged research. Meet Dr. Reid in this short introductory video, and then read and listen to her responses below.
WHAT LED YOU INTO THIS EDUCATIONAL AND CAREER PATH IN FISHERIES SCIENCE AND CONSERVATION?
I have loved being on and in the water since before I could walk. I was raised on Prince Edward Island, where fish and water figure centrally into all parts of everyday life and when I grew up and went to university and learned that I could make them the focus of my career, I was completely hooked. My earliest work on fish and on the water was based in the Lake Victoria Basin of Uganda where my eyes were completely opened to the immense knowledge of fishers. I worked so closely with Ugandan fishers who could effectively read the water and know where to find different kind of fish at different times, locations and seasons. These experiences charted me down the path of working with fishers as partners in the research process. I guess I got pulled into working on fish and fisheries because they are so deeply human – we don’t have fisheries without people and fish after all.
Throughout these formative experiences, my education was being fully supported by my First Nation – the sovereign Nisga’a Nation in northern BC – so although I didn’t grow up in Nisga’a territory or with the Nisga’a language, they still supported me. I didn’t grow up there because like so many Indigenous peoples in this country my family has been torn apart and displaced by the Residential School System and the Sixties Scoop. But this continued support told me that the connection was not lost, and I decided it was high time to focus my learning, my studies, research and outreach on critical concerns facing our fish and fisheries here at home. Which is precisely what I’m here in BC – the home of my ancestors – to do, to work collaboratively with Indigenous nations towards a better future for fish, people and the places we inhabit together.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
The Centre for Indigenous Fisheries (CIF) is developing research partnerships with First Nations communities in British Columbia and Ontario, as well as with neighbouring tribes in the United States. We will be working hard to build positive multi-year programs that bring Indigenous values and knowledge systems to the fore of mainstream, Western scientific approaches to assessing aquatic ecosystem health and managing human-mediated stressors in the aquatic environment. In addition to specific communities, our partners include organizations such as the First Nations Fisheries Legacy Fund, the First Nations Fisheries Council, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission. Individual projects are being driven by incoming CIF graduate students, often working in or near their home territories, who will receive guidance and direction from Indigenous advisory boards throughout the lifetime of their projects.
With colleagues in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and with support from UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, the CIF is also building CIRCLE: a new graduate Course on Indigenous Research through Community-centered Learning and Engagement. We are working with partners in the Haida Nation to co-develop curriculum for CIRCLE over the next academic year, planning to offer this course for the first time in 2022.
YOUR WORK ENGAGES EXTENSIVELY WITH INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY MEMBERS AS ACTIVE PARTNERS IN THE RESEARCH PROCESS. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Community-centered research that is driven by community interests, that is respectful, reciprocal and relational, that is fundamentally participatory, is one key way to rectify power imbalances and put a stop to colonial, extractive, top-down or one-sided approaches to research. On a personal level, community-based research is simply more meaningful, I find it more exciting, and ultimately it makes for better research by contextualizing or informing our research questions and how we approach them, producing results that more likely to have impact or be taken up because they were jointly produced so there’s greater collective good will towards them and because they are responding directly to community-identified needs.
There is no easy work around to simplify working with Indigenous community partners.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE RESEARCHERS AT UBC WHO WANT TO WORK IN COLLABORATION WITH INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY PARTNERS, BUT DON’T HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE?
This is a tough question that I get a lot, but it has a relatively simple answer. There is no easy work around to simplify working with Indigenous community partners. It takes trust and time to get there – the same kind of time and dedication researchers put in to learning a new discipline. For me, coming out of the natural sciences and not being raised in my community, it took me years to build up my skillset for working well in Indigenous community contexts. I read a lot, finding some excellent resources along the way that helped me understand the many essential R’s of Indigenous research – respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility – which I then had to really learn for myself by putting them into practice. I made mistakes to be sure, I asked a lot of questions, and eventually learned what it means to do work in a good way. As university researchers, we enter into community with an immense amount of privilege that needs to be critically examined from the outset, but with that privilege also comes an ability and the responsibility to push back against a system that has long excluded or actively harmed Indigenous communities and peoples. We all have a role to play in breaking down barriers, reckoning with past harms, and building towards far better university–community relationships.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE HERE AT UBC?
Coming to UBC means a great deal to me. For one, I feel I am honouring and following in the footsteps of a great Nisga’a leader, the late Frank Calder, who was the first status Indian to attend UBC. He was a man of many firsts, also the first Indigenous person elected to BC’s legislature. The title case that bears his name – the Calder Case – is what sought a clear declaration that the Aboriginal Title of the Nisga’a People had never been extinguished which ultimately led to Nisga’a self-governance and sovereignty in the early 2000s. In many ways, I don’t think I would be here having this conversation if not for Frank Calder.
Coming to UBC also means being closer to home, and a greater ability to meet my responsibilities and realize the privileges that comes with getting to a call a place like the beautiful Nass River Valley, home of the Nisga’a Nation, one of my homes. I now get to realize a part of my life and my story that has been stolen, and I get to reclaim it.
Third and last, being here means that I get to join a world leader in fisheries science – the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries or IOF – and my outstanding colleagues, the exceptional student body and all of the amazing staff in the IOF see a clear need for work for at the interface of Indigenous rights, community-centered fisheries research, and fisheries sustainability in the truly long-term and I am beyond thrilled that I can step into precisely this nexus.
Our research is fundamentally community-centered, employing both Indigenous research methodologies as well as tools and understandings from both Indigenous and Western sciences.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE WITH THE NEW CENTRE FOR INDIGENOUS FISHERIES?
I love this question because I am just on the front end of dreaming up and devising all the things that we can and will do through the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries, and it’s a very exciting time for me personally as well as professionally. This work is so deeply intertwined with who I am as a person, making it so much more than just a job.
What we will be working towards and through each project is a future where culturally significant fish and fisheries are valued and protected in the long-term. Our research is fundamentally community-centered, employing both Indigenous research methodologies as well as tools and understandings from both Indigenous and Western sciences. This research will be done with communities, not on them – with their permission, oversight, and in response to community needs. Indigenous knowledges, methods and values will fundamentally steer what we do, how we do it, and where we go.
Teaching and training will also be a huge component of this work. We have already recruited new graduate students joining our team in 2021, the majority of whom are Indigenous. I am also already working with teams of colleagues to bring forward new courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels at UBC aimed at providing guidance to those who are working with Indigenous community partners or seeking to do so or who wish to at least become knowledgeable of Indigenous issues, histories, and knowledge systems in this country.
The Centre for Indigenous Fisheries aims to serve Indigenous communities in BC and the Indigenous community here at UBC. We hope to become a hub nationally, and potentially internationally, for Indigenous fisheries work, learning and knowledge sharing with our growing network of Indigenous organizations, fishers and managers, colleagues, governments and communities across BC and beyond.
HOW WILL THE WORK YOU ARE DOING HERE IN BC TRANSLATE TO NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES CONSERVATION?
Because the realities for many Indigenous fishers and fisheries are shared the world over, the Center for Indigenous Fisheries (CIF) and our partners are working to build toolkits, templates and frameworks that other nations and Indigenous communities can freely contextualize and apply in their own circumstances. With CIF colleagues and collaborators situated around much of the Pacific Rim and throughout the Great Lakes of North America and Africa, we endeavour to create connections and build a trans-local network of Indigenous fisheries experts, protectors, and knowledge keepers and seekers.
We all have a role to play in breaking down barriers, reckoning with past harms, and building towards far better university–community relationships.