New Canada Research Chair mobilizes Indigenous knowledge to protect the future of freshwater fish

October 26, 2023

Zoe Todd, an associate professor in Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Department of Indigenous Studies, is pursuing research excellence as Canada Research Chair (CRC). Appointed as Tier 2 CRC in Indigenous Governance and Freshwater Fish Futures, Todd is finding innovative strategies to support Indigenous sovereignty and protect threatened watersheds.

As a Red River Métis scholar, Todd’s lifelong connection to Alberta’s waterways inspired her to advocate for fish and their habitats. “Where Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous laws and protocols are centered, there are better outcomes for at-risk and imperiled freshwater fish species, as well as other species,” says Todd of the transformational potential of decolonizing sustainability initiatives in Canada.

Todd’s scholarship is situated in the interdisciplinary field of critical Indigenous fish philosophy. “My research incorporates science, art, and critical Indigenous studies to understand how we can come into reciprocal relationships with freshwater fish — now and into the future,” says Todd. Responding to the work of the renowned Blackfoot scholar Leroy Little Bear, Todd is seeking insight into the often-hidden world of fish — including understanding the resilience fish have developed to survive catastrophes. “Fish are so multifaceted that we need every tool available to capture the lessons that they have to teach us,” Todd explains.

My research incorporates science, art, and critical Indigenous studies to understand how we can come into reciprocal relationships with freshwater fish — now and into the future. 

Zoe Todd, Associate Professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance and Freshwater Fish Futures

To mobilize Indigenous knowledge about conservation and the sustainable use of waterways, Todd is facilitating collaboration between Indigenous communities and academics at a series of gatherings. “Every Indigenous nation across this country has a relationship to fish: fish are part of laws, fish are part of protocols, and kinship relations,” says Todd. “That is a way of governing that treats fish as their own autonomous beings, rather than just as quotas or resources to be harvested.”

Artwork courtesy of Zoe Todd
Artwork courtesy of Zoe Todd

As an artist-researcher known for her vivid and playful artwork, Todd will use her creative talents to share her research findings with a wider audience. “Art enables me to communicate complex concepts in more dynamic ways,” says Todd. “Fish have the capacity to capture people's imagination, and the science doesn't always manage to translate that to the general public.” Using storytelling and visual art, Todd will curate a major immersive exhibit to bring greater awareness to the interconnected relationship between humans and freshwater fish.

Todd aims to use her research to encourage scientists, government leaders, activists, and community members to recognize the connection between taking action for reconciliation and protecting the environment. “Based on the work that I've done over the years, I see Indigenous governance and sovereignty as the key piece to repairing the damage that has been done to freshwater fish by different complicated forces,” explains Todd. “Centering Indigenous governance is also an invitation to understand and respect that tending to the places where we live, and having relationships to the land, is important.”