SFU biochemist weaves western science with Indigenous ways of knowing

June 16, 2022

SFU Science’s 3rd annual Indigenous Science Speaker Series features Dr. Dustin King, who is joining SFU’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry as an assistant professor in July 2022.

His talk on June 21, 2022, titled My Journey as an Indigenous Biochemist, will explore the value of making science more inclusive, drawing upon his own research to illustrate how western science and Indigenous ways of knowing can be woven together to enrich learning.

King’s recent research focuses on the impact that carbon dioxide (CO2) has on bacteria. He is the lead author of a new paper in Nature Chemical Biology which explores the biochemical mechanisms that enable bacteria to sense and react to CO2. In the future, this research could help with developing antibiotics, as well as new strategies for carbon-capture to mitigate climate change.

King’s approach to science owes a lot to his Anishinaabe heritage. Growing up in Northern BC, he developed a fascination with nature through hunting and fishing trips with his father on the traditional lands of the Wet’suwet’en and Ts’il Kaz Koh nations. “He loved to tell stories and show me how different plants and animals are interconnected,” King says. “This instilled in me a genuine respect for and interest in the biological sciences.”

He is grateful to his band, the Thessalon First Nation, for providing the financial support that enabled him to attend university, and for the mentorship of his PhD advisor Prof. Natalie Strynadka at UBC and his postdoc advisor Prof. David Vocadlo at SFU.

For King, working in academia has been a refuge from many of the challenges he faced growing up in rural BC. “Racism was prevalent in our small town,” he says, “creating a clear divide between white people and the local Indigenous groups. This led to a lack of understanding that perpetuated continuous conflict and tension.” However, he notes that these underlying issues are still present in universities.

He wants Indigenous students to know that despite the challenges they might face in their education, their experiences have value. “Pursue your interests without compromising your heritage,” he says. “Academic disciplines have so much to learn from your perspectives and ways of knowing. Positive change is on the horizon in universities, and you can be an important part of that change.”

SFU Science’s Indigenous Science Speakers Series is taking place Tuesday, June 21, from 12:00 – 1:30pm on Zoom.