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SFU joins Indigenous-led research initiative tackling biodiversity decline across the globe

January 12, 2022
Ms.Yanika Thamoon, the ปกาเกอะญอ (Pgakenyau or Karen) women leader of Khun Mae Yod Community, Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand © Pgakenyaw Association for Sustainable Development Mr. Boonsri Chalakkanok (PASD)

Researchers from Simon Fraser University will play a key role in a major initiative aimed addressing biodiversity and health issues through an Indigenous lens.

Announced today, Ărramăt is a six-year, $24-million project funded by the federal government’s New Frontiers Research Fund Transformations Program (NFRF-T) in Canada.

More than 150 Indigenous organizations, universities, and other partners will work together to highlight the complex problems of biodiversity loss and its implications for health and well-being. The project team will take a broad approach and be inclusive of many different worldviews and methods for research (i.e., intersectionality, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary). Activities will occur in 70 different kinds of ecosystems that are also spiritually, culturally, and economically important to Indigenous Peoples.

SFU professor John O’Neil, the former dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, is one of the project’s six principal investigators.

“It is an honour and a profound responsibility to be part of this Indigenous-led project,” says O’Neil. “It is unique from many other large projects in its embrace of governance models like ethical space, Indigenous research methodologies, and Indigenous Knowledges.”

As one of six universities taking a leadership role in the Ărramăt project, O’Neil and co-investigator Maya Gislason, also from SFU’s Faulty of Health Sciences, will actively support work focused on health, with an emphasis on supporting projects that will decolonize and Indigenize decisions about nature in order to strengthen the health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples, their lands and waters, and all beings who rely upon them.

“Our work in health will focus on healing from the stresses and losses caused by colonial practices and on building healthier relationships to nature,” says Gislason. “By 2027, when the project completes, healing and wellbeing will have been important considerations within the development of holistic and actionable solutions intended to improve stewardship and care for people and the planet.”

This work will be undertaken through projects around the world. John O’Neil will be part of project in Thailand in collaboration with Dr. Prasert Trakansuphakon and the Pgakenyaw Association for Sustainable Development (PASD) to document the sustainability of several systems of rotational farming practices and the importance of sacred lands and natural medicines to the health of Karen Indigenous communities in the mountainous areas of Thailand.

The project is led by Indigenous scholars and activists Danika Billie Littlechild (Carleton University), Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (former President of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), and Sherry Pictou (Dalhousie University). O’Neil and Murray Humphries, co-director for the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition, and Environment at McGill University, are also co-principal investigators of the project. The University of Alberta is the lead institution for the project (led by Brenda Parlee, nominated principal investigator).

Over half of the $24-million research budget will go directly to Indigenous governments and organizations to lead their own work in ways that respect, protect, and elevate the knowledges and Indigenous ways of life.

For more information, visit the Ărramăt project website here.