Quirks & Quarks

Bringing 'two eyed seeing' — Indigenous knowledge and science — to fisheries conservation

Fisheries scientist Andrea Reid has embraced her Indigenous roots and is committed to giving back to her community by sharing her experience and scientific knowledge

Fisheries scientist Andrea Reid is bringing her science to her community

Fisheries scientist Andrea Reid on British Columbia's Skeena River (Talon Gillis)
Listen15:34

A young fisheries scientist and conservation biologist currently in the final stages of obtaining her Ph.D. has found a way to make connections between her area of study, her Indigenous roots, and her passion to pass knowledge and experience on to others, especially young women.

Andrea Reid was born in Montreal and raised by her non-aboriginal mother in a small community on Prince Edward Island. Her father was from a Nisga'a community on the west coast, and had been adopted as a two year old, so had grown up without contact with his natal community. 

Reid's upbringing provided the inspiration for her future studies, but it was embracing her Indigenous roots on the other side of the country that has helped shape her career path. 

Andrea growing up on Prince Edward Island (Lea Stillinger)

Reid is completing her Ph.D studies at Carleton university.  Next year she will take up a position as Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and chair their new Indigenous Fisheries Research Unit.

Here is part of her conversation with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity

What is the connection between Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge when it comes to fisheries?

Our fisheries, like many of our ecosystems around the world, are truly in crisis. And in order to solve a lot of the problems that are facing these systems we need all of the best tools available at our disposal, and not just those that are derived from western scientific practice.

There are other ways of looking at the world, other ways of finding solutions and Indigenous knowledge provides a wealth of long standing knowledge of these systems. Indigenous peoples in this country have managed fish and fisheries sustainably for millennia and surely those have lessons to bear on what we're doing today. So a big part of my work centres on trying to create room for Indigenous ways of knowing, Indigenous ways of being.

Can you give me an example of where there's been a crossover from Indigenous traditional knowledge to contemporary science?

Sure. There is a principle called "two-eyed seeing," which is a Mi'kmaq concept of learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and learning to see from the other eye and with Western strengths and knowledge, and learning to use both those eyes together for the benefit of all.

This is a concept that's been elucidated in the literature by Mi'kmaq elder Albert Marshall. Looking at the oil derived from from birch bark as part of the Mi'kmaq cultural tradition and how that can be used to treat eczema. Now they're working with researchers at Cape Breton University to try to synthesize those oils and bring together those Indigenous knowledge systems with western approaches, to try to find solutions that can benefit a lot of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Andrea Reid (Mikayla Wujec)

One of the issues in British Columbia is the role of fish farms. There are debates about whether or not they should even be happening.

Yes, and it's a really important question. Part of my work does look at how multiple threats in the environment are affecting our salmon as they move through. They start out in lakes and rivers and work their way to the ocean and then back again. So they're moving through this landscape that is filled with different threats. So it's hard to adapt when you're in an ever changing environment.

Crucially, fish farms are in really important locations for juvenile salmon as well as and returning adult migrants coming home to their natal streams. And there are risks involved in that and it's something that I would be keen to work on in the future. My work now does look at the role of disease in the ability for fish to make it back to their spawning grounds.

What are some of the ways that you plan to give back to the community on the west coast even though you didn't actually grow up there?

Giving back to the community has been a really central ambition in my work. But I very much do this work in concert with the community. So it's all about building reciprocity and in every way that I can. So a big part of my passion is inspiring youth to get involved in science, the natural world, and being the future stewards of fish and fisheries. So to that end I lead annual science camps in my nation that engage youth of all ages mostly 7 to 17. 

Generally we get out there on the water, we get them looking at fish, we get them on boats into parts of the territory that they otherwise don't have access to, learning different tools. But we also bring in elders so that there's a language and cultural knowledge transmission component to these camps as well. So these camps really try to embody that notion of two-eyed seeing, bringing these two worlds together so that these young minds can have the strengths of both as they tackle our future problems.

Bears Fish Forest Youth Camp (Andrea Reid)

Why is giving this outdoor experience to young women so important to you?

Women are historically and contemporarily very under-represented in science fields, technology, engineering, mathematics, architecture, you name it. We really think that this is an excellent way to have young women exposed to female leaders in science. Rarely do youth get to ask a scientist any question off the top of their head. In this way they get to spend a whole week learning directly from us on the topics that we're studying.

We think that this is a fabulous way to expose them to science, Indigenous knowledge and also all kinds of different things. We build in modules on different forms of technology that can help us know more about the environment. We use drones, underwater ROV's. We also use those in a storytelling capacity and give them the basics of  photography 101, and storytelling 101, because getting our messages out into the world as scientists is a really key part of our role.

Riparia's first expedition (Riparia)

Sharing knowledge seems to be a very important theme in your life, why is that?

I think that I've been in a very privileged position throughout my career and I think increasingly as I move into these spaces and reconnect with my own roots and that I find a space for myself in my Indigenous community and that I can claim that part of my heritage that I wasn't able to before. I really see the very important role of knowledge keepers.

I'm not there yet. It will take a lifetime to get to that point but I really see a role for myself as being a knowledge transmitter and a conduit to have the knowledge of generations past move through me as I try to inspire that next generation forthcoming. A study that I led in 2018 centred on Indigenous elders across British Columbia, about their knowledge of Pacific salmon, the focus of my doctoral research.

Just getting to spend time with all of these people who are sharing with me not just the knowledge that they have accrued in their lifetime, but often referencing the knowledge that was passed down to them from their parents and their parents parents and so on. It really is a privilege and with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility. So that's really what I'm trying to do in my work.

Gathering stories and information from elders (Andrea Reid)

Produced by Mark Crawley