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Knowledge Mobilizers: Helping Indigenous communities advance and protect their traditional knowledge
Inspired by reading National Geographic magazines, “a portal into the cultural diversity of the world”, SFU archaeology professor George Nicholas always knew he wanted to be an archaeologist. His early career experience of teaching at the SFU campus on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Reserve in Kamloops was “a transformative element of not just my career, but my life; working with and for Indigenous peoples has been at the core of my career and my being for the last 35 years”.
“That first day of class (on the reserve) I had planned to give my usual Introduction to Archaeology lecture and realized quickly this would not work. Instead we had a conversation about archaeology. It was a reciprocal relationship, I shared how archaeology can be a tool and explored how it could be useful for them and they taught me about their culture and heritage values”.
Today, Nicholas’ work helps advance Indigenous heritage protection, social justice and decolonization. He was recently recognized for his exemplary work in this area when he was awarded the SFU Warren Gill Award for Community Engagement in 2021.
Knowledge mobilization is core to Nicholas’ way of working, and he notes that he is guided by 15th-century Chinese thinker Wang Yanming’s philosophy that “knowledge without action is not knowledge.”
In other words, knowledge and action are integrated; knowledge is gained and used through doing.
Nicholas says that his interests as an academic should be informed by society’s needs. For him, this comes through working for and with Indigenous communities.
In this way of working, Nicholas says he has gained valuable experience and insights that he looks for ways to share with the public.
His ever popular op-ed, titled It’s taken thousands of years, but Western science is finally catching up to Traditional Knowledge, which was published originally in The Conversation Canada back in 2018, has over 414,000 reads worldwide today. His article has been republished in other major publications, including Maclean’s and the Smithsonian Magazine. It is still read by thousands of people every month.
Exposure from this article has helped him garner other knowledge mobilization opportunities for his work, including speaking engagements at conferences, writing for other publications, features in books and providing commentary on these important issues in mainstream media.
The Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project, and other projects Nicholas has been involved in, feature deep collaborative work and various dissemination approaches. For example, some of the popular resources the international IPinCH team has created includes Think before you appropriate: A guide for creators and designers and the blog series Appropriation (?) of the month. In 2013, Nicholas received the inaugural Partnership Award from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council for IPinCH.
What has Nicholas learned from being a knowledge mobilizer?
“It’s important to stop, listen, and observe, and then consider what you can contribute to make things better. If your heart is in the right place things will fall into place, so take some risks, make mistakes and stretch the boundaries of your own understanding of other peoples’ engagement with the world.”
Are you interested in learning more about knowledge mobilization? Sign up for the SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub newsletter to stay informed of our upcoming events or get in touch with Lupin Battersby firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation. Our fall lunch and learn series will cover partnering with Indigenous communities, media interviews, and so much more, stay tuned!
Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities.