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Human Stories

Expanding The Gaze Of Modern Fisheries Management

Dr Andrea Reid is a citizen of the Nisgaꞌa Nation, an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, and cofounder of Riparia, a Canadian charity that connects diverse young women with science on the water. Dr Reid’s work employs Indigenous research methodologies and community-based approaches in her fisheries studies to improve understanding of the complex interrelationships between fish, people and place. I sat down with her to discuss the role of Indigenous knowledge in the future of fisheries management.

How did you become involved in the Indigenous fisheries space?

I grew up on the east coast of Canada in a tiny fishing and farming community on a place called Epekwitk, now known as Prince Edward Island (in Miꞌkmaꞌki territory). I grew up loving to swim and spending hours on the beach, so I think that instilled in me a deep care for the sea and all its inhabitants.

When I got to University, an amazing advisor took me under her wing to work with Ugandan fishers on Nile perch in the Lake Victoria basin. But as I was applying the scientific methods to these fisheries, I was blown away by how much the fishers I was working with knew about the landscape, how much they could read the water and tell me where, when and how we would find the fish. It really was that deeply human aspect and relationship that pulled me further into this.

Throughout these studies and experiences, I'd been getting support from the Nisgaꞌa Nation, the First Nation that I belong to - that my Dad and my Grandmother and our ancestors going back millennia belong to. I realised that I needed to do more to give back to my own people through my work as a scientist in this space.

How have you connected Indigenous knowledge and scientific training in your work? 

A major methodology I used in my work is the idea of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk in Mikꞌmaq). It means learning to see from multiple perspectives and bringing together the strengths of Western sciences alongside the strengths of Indigenous knowledge systems, and using both together for the benefit of all. It’s about finding ways that invite those multiple perspectives to be validated, legitimized and brought together as evidence when we're working on problems that affect everyone in that space.

- it’s a whole different way of viewing and being in the world, and I think it’s this understanding, this relationship to so-called nature, that could be profoundly transformative for the current status quo of how we interact with and relate to the natural world.

How has the general response been by Indigenous communities to sharing knowledge and working alongside non-Indigenous fisheries scientists?

On the whole, I encounter a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism. Increasingly, I see so many nations that want to engage. They see huge value in bringing together multiple tools and approaches, just as many Indigenous frameworks for thinking about learning have always embraced multiple ways of knowing. There's a really wonderful quote, by Cook Islander Thomas Davis, who says that, ‘if my ancestors had fiberglass, they would have used it’. We have long histories of using the tools that are available at our disposal.

But there are pockets of scepticism or criticism, of course. On the part of non-Indigenous scholars, I think that there are many who doubt the validity of Indigenous knowledge systems or see them as scientifically unworthy of being included in these spaces. And while we have this school of thought within the academy that undermines the validity of Indigenous knowledge systems, there is also hesitance on the part of Indigenous peoples - well-placed hesitance in certain circumstances - regarding the motivations of employing these collaborative approaches.

If Two-Eyed Seeing is misappropriated and used as simply a new way of extracting Indigenous knowledge so that it can be used as data and fed into Western science framings for Western scientific ends alone, then it is extremely problematic, and it is not Two-Eyed Seeing as envisioned by the carrier of this teaching, Miꞌkmaq Elder, Dr Albert Marshall. 

Photo by Dr Andrea Reid

Why do you think non-Indigenous scholars doubt the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge?

To accept alternatives requires a relinquishing of power and space on the part of those who hold it. That's a big ask and one that many do not want to partake in. People don't want to give up those positions or complicate the decision-making process - that's a big part of it for fisheries managers in many contexts. They want to make a clear decision based on something that they think holds the best information available to them. There's a lot of work to be done to have collective discussions about what constitutes evidence and what constitutes expertise - it is not just people who, like me, hold PhDs; there are experts in our communities who know the fish far better than I ever will.

But I think that people are increasingly willing to engage in these conversations and interrogate their own biases, privileges and what kinds of values they carry into these spaces. There are so many studies that do a really beautiful job of bringing together ways of knowing, and it makes it clear that we have the methods to work in this way. It's more about the institutional and political will to make change. But we're very much at a starting point. I think what people need to see is a successful application of these collaborative fisheries management methods for them to become widely accepted.

How could Indigenous perspectives influence the ways that a fishery is managed? 

To be clear, I just want to recognise that not all Indigenous peoples hold the same perspectives and values; there’s a plurality of Indigenous cultures that have distinct worldviews. But from my experience in the Canadian context, the way that many nations look at fisheries here stems from a vastly different worldview than mainstream approaches to management. A foundational component of that comes from taking a relational perspective, where fish are seen as relatives to live in reciprocity with - not as objects to be commodified and treated through command and control systems that we commonly use today.

Many Indigenous fishing ethics across the land now known as Canada, really hinge on these values. They centre on not taking more than one needs, not taking all that can be seen, and minimizing harm through our activities. Those culminate in fisheries practices that are really couched in thinking not only about this present circumstance we live in but in being responsible descendants to our ancestors and responsible ancestors to our descendants. It's the whole notion of ‘seven generations’ - reaching back to my great-grandmother and to my great-grandchild. These are both individuals I could meet in my lifetime, and my impact as an individual can span those seven generations, so I'm accountable to all of them. This concept is shared across many nations here, and I think it stands in stark contrast to that capitalistic, commodified view of fish and fisheries. 

What would it mean to Indigenous communities you’ve worked with for a key fishery to collapse?

When fish populations or species do get depleted in these contexts, it's far more than just a loss of food for so many people. It is a loss of culture, of tradition, of language and all of the things tied to that fish. For example, if industry comes in and makes the water unliveable for fish coming up the river, as many Indigenous scholars are making clear, that is cultural genocide. It's removing this cultural keystone species foundational to who we are as people. I’ve had elders ask me, ‘Who are we as Nisgaꞌa if the salmon aren’t there? We’re salmon people, we can't exist without them’. 

I’ve also had elders ask whether the loss of the species is purposeful and is meant to disempower or disenfranchise communities. I think that there are some really well-placed concerns there, but there's also some brilliance contained within it as well. I see nations here recognizing that reality and that tension, and many are trying to find creative ways of confronting it by developing ‘culture camps’ with communities. These culture camps allow us to come together around those fewer fish and make sure that there is space for elder-youth knowledge transfer so that those practices and those histories aren't lost as the fish diminish.

How could acknowledging social and cultural ties to fisheries impact how they’re managed?

If you look at the history of fisheries science, there's been an increasing recognition of the important role of fishers. Bob Johannes’ work famously identified that ‘you need to bring fishers on board, or you miss the boat’. How do you enact policies, if you don't have buy-in from those who are supposed to follow them? 

But I think there is now a growing recognition that those strictly ecological approaches aren't satisfying the needs of these truly coupled social-ecological systems, so there needs to be this social dimension that also factors in. That's the direction that ecosystem-based fisheries management and adaptive management have been pushing people towards for several decades now. 

And there are, of course, adaptive practices embedded in Indigenous knowledge systems that date back millennia that could lend insight into how we deal with the uncertainty and unprecedented change we're grappling with now. I think there's such a real risk to thinking that we can deplete a fish stock to a certain point, and it's not going to have these ripple effects on everything else in the ecosystem that it's attached to. 

Could the Two-Eyed Seeing approach apply to international fisheries contexts, or is it restricted to localised fisheries?

The challenge is definitely a lot more simplified when we're looking at a localised context. For example, here in British Columbia, the way that Indigenous peoples used to live in the landscape was often distributed throughout an entire watershed, and they would have boots on the ground throughout the river system. Pre-colonization, they were there to monitor it, take care of it and see what was going on in the waters and with the fish. Through colonization, people have been concentrated on reserve land and removed from being those active care-takers throughout the watershed. I think Two-Eyed Seeing is one approach, of several, that could help us get back to a place where Indigenous understandings of aquatic health are valued and utilized in the care and management of a system.

But it certainly gets really complex when we venture into international waters or to big transboundary fisheries. Two-Eyed Seeing and these kinds of methodologies are not a panacea. They're not one-size-fits-all kinds of solutions. The larger the scale we attempt to tackle, the more people need to be involved at the decision-making table.

Two-Eyed Seeing as a practice is really meant to be a reflexive practice that we carry with us through the entirety of a decision-making scheme or research project. It allows us to think at every stage about all perspectives and to create space to enable those voices and perspectives to be there at the decision-making table. This can be applied across scales, but like many systems in the world, when we operate on such large scales, we lose touch with our ability to adaptively manage and fit to the landscape. I'm a big advocate for localizing our fisheries and for managing them on a watershed-level scale that's appropriate to the environment, to the threats, to the fish and to the people that are there.

Are you optimistic about the role of Indigenous knowledge in the future of fisheries management? 

I really love the approach that elder Albert Marshall has told me about - that as Indigenous peoples in a country that is moving towards legislating UNDRIP (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) as law, there will be increasing inroads for Indigenous peoples to play really active roles. We’re some of the few in this country who can take the government to court for polluting a waterway or removing fish because those actions infringe on rights enshrined in UNDRIP. I think that there is a great amount of agency and responsibility that is bestowed on us because of this, and we have an ability to oversee these waterways and to supersede provincial and federal legislations. I think that's where there's real power. I think that's where we need to see this shift going, especially if we want to move towards more localized and small-scale fisheries and their management. 

What’s next for you, and what do you hope to achieve through your work?

For my hopes on what I'll achieve through the Center for Indigenous Fisheries, it really centres on making space within the academy for all of those who constitute Indigenous fisheries and Indigenous fishing communities. I really want this space, while it's housed in the academy, to be a space for communities, for organizations, for individuals of all kinds - be they artists, thinkers, scholars, elders, youth - I really want it to be cross-cutting and inviting to all. So, I hope that our center can really be a platform for helping to build that kind of network and hub and community around these concerns for collective learning for the benefit of all.

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