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Dean of Environment honoured for support in decolonizing research to combat food insecurity for coastal First Nations

November 21, 2022
Photo left to right: Anne Salomon, Laurie Wood, Naomi Krogman, Kii’iljuus (Barbara Wilson)

The return of sea otters to B.C.’s West Coast following their near elimination by the maritime fur trade has had profound negative effects on shellfish populations. This decline in local shellfish has brought about a new set of concerns for the health of our coastal ecosystems and the food security of Indigenous communities who rely on them.

In response to these concerns, Anne Salomon, professor in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, and her collaborator, Haida Scholar and Matriarch, Kii’iljuus (Barbara Wilson) spearheaded Coastal Voices. The group comprised of Indigenous leaders and knowledge holders and scientists has been working together since 2014 to help coastal Indigenous communities find ways to co-exist with sea otters. This combination of western science and Indigenous knowledge from those who have sustainably managed these ecosystems for millennia creates a unique knowledge base to understand how these areas functioned prior to the maritime fur trade, and what is happening now as sea otter populations reduce shared food sources.

This September, Kii’iljuus presented Naomi Krogman, dean of SFU’s Faculty of Environment, with a paddle carved by Gitkinjuuas, an artist and Hereditary Chief of the Haida Nation. Integral to the survival of coastal communities, the paddle symbolizes the vital role each member plays in community engaged research and the importance of working collaboratively.

Following Haida Nation protocols, accepting the gift in the audience of Salomon’s REM 801 class serves not only as recognition of the Faculty’s in-kind and financial support of this collaboration, but also demonstrates Krogman’s commitment and responsibility to continue this type of work going forward.

“This collaboration demonstrates a more respectful, reciprocal, and holistic way to begin to decolonize research, recognize the values that drive good research questions, and engages communities to share their knowledge and identify solutions for how to sustainably manage the ecosystem. I feel so honoured to work with faculty like Anne, and collaborators like Kii’iljuus, who show us a wiser way forward,” says Krogman.

The group has convened two transdisciplinary workshops, co-produced a short documentary film, created and on-line learning platform, held cross Nation knowledge exchanges, organized international symposia, and have co-designed, co-produced and co-delivered new data and knowledge. Most recently, this past summer at the University of Victoria, the group met to envision how ancestral management practices could be revitalized to support thriving shellfish, kelp forests, sea otters, and coastal communities. These gatherings have brought together scientists from SFU, University of Victoria, McGill University, University of Guelph, Florida State University, and elders and knowledge holders from the Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk and Haida Nations, to share knowledge and tackle key issues in mediating relationships between Indigenous peoples and sea otters. Beyond the immediate issue of food security and access to cultural food sources, this included strengthening Indigenous governance authority, promoting active and adaptive otter management, acquiring and integrating Indigenous knowledge, and establishing learning platforms.

The Coastal Voices project and Salomon’s research demonstrate how our collective knowledge is strengthened by the inclusion of different knowledge systems. The success of this project leaves the door open for more researchers to question who is invited to the table, who isn't, and why that is.