IAGLR Session Explores ‘Seeing With Both Eyes’ Through Indigenous Knowledge and Western science

Nick Boucher
Great Lakes Fishery Commission
July 15, 2021
iaglr two eyed seeing cisco fish

Approaches to ecosystem management in the Great Lakes are largely guided by Western science. Recently, however, there is a growing awareness among scientists of the need to bring Indigenous ecological knowledge to bear on environmental decision making and develop methodologies for bridging knowledge systems. This approach, often invoking the Mi’kmaw concept of Etuaptmumk, is called ”Two-Eyed Seeing.”

The approach has one eye focused on learning from Indigenous ecological knowledge and the other eye learning from Western science. It acknowledges the considerable benefits of using multiple forms of knowledge as a way to gaining understanding.

To share knowledge about the key lessons learned by practitioners in using the Two-Eyed Seeing approach, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission hosted a discussion at the 2021 virtual conference of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR). The discussion was part of a broader session titled “Bridging knowledge systems between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities,” consisting of 41 participants including Western and Indigenous scientists, knowledge-keepers and other specialists including those with “a foot on each bank.”

Participants were placed into breakout rooms for a semi-structured discussion to share their experiences bridging between Western and Indigenous systems and the opportunities and challenges of using the approach.

Building, Respecting, Committing

Following the breakout session, group representatives reported key recommendations resulting from their discussion. Broadly, these recommendations fell into three categories: focusing on relationship building, respecting the history of Indigenous communities and committing to mutual benefit.

georgian bay lake huron
Georgian Bay, Lake Huron taken from the Saugeen Peninsula. Credit: Kaitlin Almack, OMNR

Collaborating effectively with Indigenous communities requires a commitment to building ethical and respectful relationships. A common question throughout the session was “I would like to work on topic x, how do I approach an Indigenous community?”

Participants recommended focusing instead on building a strong relationship with the community and learning the community’s research interests and needs. A good first step toward building a strong relationship is to work with the community to identify a key contact to begin discussing research interests and concerns.

Informal meetings such as sharing a meal allow community members and scientists to interact independently of their roles to build trust. Another important recommendation shared was the importance of building enduring relationships and including youth through curricula that bridges Indigenous ecological knowledge and Western science, focuses on experiential learning and encourages Indigenous student participation in academic institutions.

Working with Indigenous communities requires taking time to learn from the community about their nation’s history, values, language and worldview. This means coming to each discussion with cultural sensitivity and a willingness to understand and address the history and associated power imbalances. Most of all, it requires Western scientists to appreciate that knowledge comes in diverse forms and that many research projects would benefit from a Two-Eyed Seeing approach. 

Throughout the relationship-building process, it is important to focus on working toward mutual interests and needs with the community, and conducting ethical research to accomplish mutually beneficial outcomes. 

One key to ethical research put forth by group discussion was sharing information and communicating results effectively. Ultimately, any data documented from Indigenous knowledge systems should be handled using accepted principles of Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP). These standards, managed by the First Nations Information Governance Centre, ensure that Indigenous peoples can assert their inherent right to make informed decisions about how their data, information, and cultural knowledge are collected, accessed, used and shared.

While Indigenous ways of knowing are unique from Western scientific ways of acquiring knowledge and can provide novel information about Great Lakes ecosystems, working with Indigenous knowledge-holders should go beyond using their knowledge to gain a better understanding of natural resources and move toward full recognition of Indigenous knowledge sovereignty.

Indigenous peoples possess a wealth of multi-generational knowledge resulting from lived experiences. Scientists have an important role to play in advancing reconciliation required to rebuild trust and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Involving Indigenous communities through the Two-Eyed Seeing Approach is a tangible and action-oriented outcome to the Call to Actions as outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as well as the principles of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This requires a fundamental shift in how we conduct research, teach and learn together.

Insights from the dialogue session are being compiled, and session chairs will work in collaboration with participants to co-develop a manuscript. The manuscript will appear in a forthcoming special section of the Journal of Great Lakes Research on bridging knowledge systems. If you have a contribution you would like to submit to this special issue, reach out to Nick Boucher at nboucher@glfc.org.

Contributors to this article also included Kaitlin Almack from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Alex Duncan and Andrea Reid with the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia.

Nick Boucher
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Nick Boucher is a fishery research program associate at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in Ann Arbor, Michigan.