Lindsay Heller


Lindsay is a Nehiyaw scholar, skilled facilitator and member of the Michel First Nation, who makes her home on unceded Musqueam territory.

She began her professional career as a pharmaceutical research scientist at the Centre for Drug Research and Development and brings over a decade of experience in both academic and industry environments.

Her teaching and research focus is on understandings of Indigenous science, weaving of Indigenous Knowledge with Western science, and Indigenous curriculum development. A critical aspect of her work is on respectfully privileging Indigenous knowledge as a dimension of elevating the standing of Indigenous communities more equitably and respectfully within institutions.

Her professional focus is on Indigenization initiatives and trauma-informed dialogue, with an emphasis on approaching this work from a decolonized perspective. She believes that this perspective is critical and foundational when engaging in all forms of anti-racism and equity work.

She has developed and refined her facilitation and consulting skills in a wide variety of dialogues including with the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, SFU’s Centre for Dialogue Community Responses to Racism, and consultations for the Province of British Columbia on emergency public health measures. She has supported several post-secondary and government clients wishing to engage in Indigenization and decolonization, as well as equity and anti-racism work. These include Simon Fraser University, Adler University, Vancouver Community College, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, the Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver.

In her capacity on SFU’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council, she has the opportunity to collaborate with students, faculty and staff in providing leadership and advocacy to inform policies and structures relating to Indigenizing and decolonizing the institution.

Lindsay’s experience working in collaborative research and engaging with Indigenous communities has led to a passion for innovating new engagement processes that advance the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reclaiming her Nehiyaw language with her daughters, backcountry adventuring, growing food and playing basketball.

The Power of Stories and Dialogue

A group of scientists from Ottawa were up in the arctic tundra of the Northwest Territories sampling for population growth of the Rangifer tarandus, or Porcupine Caribou. This group of scientists traveled by helicopter throughout known habitats of the herd in order to determine population estimates. This assessment dictates the number of caribou hunting tags given to local Gwich'in communities each year. The scientists were required to consult the local Indigenous people. They had invited a local Elder into their camp for the night to fulfil this requirement. Through a translator, the Elder began to share some stories while drawing in the snow images associated with the stories. He used a long branch of lodgepole pine to draw. When he was finished, he drew a circle around his images and said, “this is what I know about the caribou.”

The group of scientists chuckled a bit. One of the visiting scientists gestured for the Elder to hand him the branch, whereupon he proceeded to draw a much larger circle next to that of the Elder. The scientist explained that his much larger drawing depicted that this was what they knew about the caribou. After a long while looking at the large circle beside the smaller circle, the Elder finally stood up again and retrieved the branch. The scientists had gone back to their conversation, but they watched with curiosity as he picked up the branch. He walked around the whole area, dragging the branch behind him to encircle both of the original circles and the entire group. When he finished, he turned to the scientists and said “this what we know together about the caribou.”

This story has had profound consequences for Lindsay's teaching and research praxis. Stories are central to how Lindsay learns and teaches: stories that can spark and deepen authentic dialogue amongst people with different backgrounds and lived experiences. This story also depicts an encounter between people who have radically different ways of being, knowing and communicating. It also depicts the power or, at least, the potential power of dialogue between Indigenous knowledge holders and scientists whose knowledge is primarily shaped by western and southern academies. In most scientific disciplines and institutions, Indigenous scholars, knowledges and ways of knowing are limited, marginalized or altogether absent. The knowledge about caribou to be gained by this trip to the North was not only in what was visible from the helicopter. It was not held only by the scientists, nor was it only held by the Elder. Each possesses something to teach and learn; dialogue is a tool to make that possible, whether the issue is analyzing caribou populations or advancing equity and anti-racism.

About Lindsay's Fellowship

Through a fellowship appointment at the Centre, Lindsay Heller will create and deliver workshops, professional development opportunities and dialogue circles that weave together Indigenous knowledge and western science. These learning opportunities would provide a chance for SFU faculty, professionals and educators of all levels to begin the personal and institutional transformation that our world desperately needs.

Drawing on her experiences in co-creating and co-teaching several land-based courses for the University of Saskatchewan, as well as her role in developing Indigenous science curriculum in SFU’s Health Sciences Department, these workshops and dialogue circles will contribute to the development of new knowledge. They will support greater understanding of the complementarities between Indigenous and western scientific knowledge systems and will introduce pedagogical approaches to facilitate transformative learning experiences for participants. Through meaningful dialogue, experiential learning, land based pedagogies and the exploration of Indigenous epistemes, participants will learn together about the strengths and limitations of their respective scientific knowledges, and could contribute new knowledge and insights about important scientific and social challenges.

The ability to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges, and from the other eye with the strengths of western knowledges, was first coined by Mi’kmaw Elder Dr. Albert Marshall as two-eyed seeing. This ability carries with it a responsibility. There is often no place for Indigenous voices in the academe, particularly in the western science disciplines. In these unprecedented times of climate change and its associated disasters, devastating resource management practices, a global pandemic, and lagging novel drug development, to name a few, the ability to approach these issues from both a western science and Indigenous science perspective is needed more than ever. Not only do we need more Indigenous students going into the natural science fields, we also need to reimagine how those programs are delivered such that the gifts of these Indigenous students are embraced and celebrated. This work is not only for Indigenous learners, who need to see themselves and their values reflected in instructors and pedagogy. This work is also for the non-Indigenous learners, who will make up the vast majority of professionals and leaders in these fields for the foreseeable future.

Science teaching and research are embedded within postsecondary institutions and other institutions of advanced learning. Over the past few years, Lindsay has been gaining experience and expertise in collaborating with post-secondary leaders, students, faculty and staff, to engage in dialogue-based initiatives to advance decolonization and Indigenization, as well as anti-racism efforts, within their very complex systems, including research, curricula and pedagogy. 

In her fellowship Lindsay looks forward to continuing to build on the work that she is currently doing with regards to decolonizing and Indigenizing policies, practice and processes, and to contribute to efforts to implement the TRC’s post-secondary education-related calls to justice and action, as well as the implications for the post-secondary sector in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These are complex systems, and neither advocacy nor the heroic efforts of relatively siloed educators is sufficient to facilitate the many fundamental changes that are required. Dialogue is essential to advance this change, just as it is essential to facilitate authentic learning amongst people with very different ways of being and knowing. Inspired by the Elder whose circle encompassed western science and Indigenous science, Lindsay hopes to facilitate dialogue within her fellowship work between different circles of people and between different ways of understanding the world.

Selected Media & Publications

  • Baker J., Heller L. (2019) Indigenous Science Education. In: Peters M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. Springer, Singapore
  • Mugabe, C., Matsui, Y., So, A. I., Gleave, M. E., Heller, M., Heller, L., Burt, H. M. (2011). In Vitro and In Vivo Evaluation of Intravesical Docetaxel Loaded Hydrophobically Derivatized Hyperbranched Polyglycerols in an Orthotopic Model of Bladder Cancer. Biomacromolecules, 12(4), 949-960. doi:10.1021/bm101316q
  • Zhigaltsev, I. V., Winters, G., Srinivasulu, M., Crawford, J., Wong, M., Amankwa, L., Heller, L. (2010). Development of a weak-base docetaxel derivative that can be loaded into lipid nanoparticles. Journal of Controlled Release, 144(3), 332-340. doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2010.02.029
  • Hilpert, K., Elliott, M., Jenssen, H., Kindrachuk, J., Fjell, C. D., Körner, J., Weaver, L., Pante, N., Hancock, R. E. (2009). Screening and Characterization of Surface-Tethered Cationic Peptides for Antimicrobial Activity. Chemistry & Biology, 16(1), 58-69. doi:10.1016/j.chembiol.2008.11.006
  • Wu, W. W., Weaver, L. L., & Panté, N. (2009). Purification and Visualization of Influenza A Viral Ribonucleoprotein Complexes. Journal of Visualized Experiments JoVE, (24). doi:10.3791/1105
  • Wu, W. W., Weaver, L. L., & Panté, N. (2007). Ultrastructural Analysis of the Nuclear Localization Sequences on Influenza A Ribonucleoprotein Complexes. Journal of Molecular Biology, 374(4), 910- 916. doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2007.10.022