Reflecting on “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill

By Alexandra Sawatzky (PhD Student, Dept. of Population Medicine) and Dr. Sherilee Harper (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Population Medicine), on behalf of the InukNet Team.

On May 18th, Sheri and I travelled to Ottawa to take part in the “Research Matters Pop-Up Research Park” at Parliament Hill. We were both honoured and humbled to represent the University of Guelph at this gathering.

Shortly after our arrival at Parliament, we headed upstairs to attend Question Period in the House of Commons. Having the chance to experience this snapshot of political life firsthand was incredible, an added bonus to our already stimulating day.

Following Question Period, we made our way down the hall to set up for the Pop-Up Research Park. The Research Park served as an opportunity for us, alongside other Ontario university researchers, students, and industry or community partners, to engage with MPs and other senior government officials to discuss and share our research.

Each pair or group of researchers was asked to stand under a banner displaying a photo that described our work, as well as a catalytic question that was meant to ignite conversation. While there was an incredible diversity of research topics around the room, all topics related to issues impacting Canadians where they live and work. Sheri and I were there to speak about our experiences working alongside the Inuit community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador to develop a participatory environment-health surveillance program. As our work is premised on creating and maintaining strong relationships with this community, we posed the question: Can community-university collaboration enhance Inuit health and wellbeing?

We connected with MPs from across the country, including Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador. Sheri also had the honour of meeting Dr. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. Although we were mainly discussing ideas and themes specific to our research, these ideas and themes – such as the theme of collaboration – resonated with everyone we spoke with. Indeed, we also engaged in discussions about the overarching reason that brought us all together in the first place – the importance of strengthening partnerships and communication between research, government, industry, and communities.

Strong partnerships and effective communication are needed in order to support innovation, collaboration, and better futures for all sectors of society. Research-based innovation would not be possible without the partnerships between industry, academia, and government –partnerships that are created and reinforced through events such as this Research Park.

Participating in this event demonstrated to us how important it is to connecting researchers with government, industry, and community representatives throughout the entire research process – from development to implementation to evaluation. Indeed, developing and growing our perspectives on, and approaches to, research and innovation cannot be done in isolation. Rather, creating and pursuing strong partnerships across disciplines and sectors can help us all to pursue better approaches to research, policy, and practice that are aligned with the needs, goals, and priorities of all those involved.

 

And then we made a podcast… Adventures in integrative knowledge mobilization

Written by Lindsay Day, MSc Candidate

It was with great excitement that we launched the “Water Dialogues” podcast last week at www.WaterDialogues.ca.

Nearly a year in the making, the collaborative podcast is based on a Canadian Water Network-funded project, and examines the need for, and our struggle towards, using Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to address the water issues we face in Canada today.

Audio-recordings were taken during a Water Gathering event that brought together First Nations, Inuit, Metis and non-Indigenous water experts, researchers, and knowledge holders from across Canada.

This Water Gathering was the second of two that were held as part of the 18-month research project. Held at the Wabano Aboriginal Health Centre in Ottawa (traditional Algonquin territory), the format was a series of sharing circles, where every person has a turn to speak and all voices are valued equally.

Using a narrative, audio-documentary format, the podcast weaves together the voices, stories and experiences of those that attended the Gathering in order to explore the key issues and findings from the project.

The result is something powerful, moving, and definitely worth a listen.

 

Follow the conversation on Twitter: #H2Odialogues

 A huge thank you to all the podcast team members: Dr. Sherilee HarperDr. Ashlee CunsoloDr. Heather CastledenDr. Debbie Martin, Catherine Hart, Tim Anaviapik-Soucie, George Russell Jr., Clifford Paul. And of course, to all the amazing people who shared their words, stories, wisdom, ideas and knowledge at the Water Gathering and in the podcast.

 

Listen and learn more at www.WaterDialogues.ca.

A Tale of Two Conferences

Alexandra Sawatzky, one of the lovely PhD students I have the privilege of co-supervising with Dr. Sherilee Harper at the University of Guelph has written some reflections of her recent experiences and learnings at two conferences.

Written by Alexandra Sawatzky, PhD Student

During the week of April 25, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at two conferences: the Sparking Population Health Solutions International Su…

Source: A Tale of Two Conferences

InukBook Project Featured in Canadian Geographic

This past week, members of the InukBook Team attended the Adaptation Canada conference in Ottawa, Ontario, including Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. James Ford, Anna Bunce, Derrick Pottle, and Jamie Snook. I had the privilege of representing the team, and presenting our project to a large audience of researchers, decision-makers, government representatives, Indigenous leaders, NGOs.

A journalist from Canadian Geographic wrote a feature on our project, highlighting the potential the InukBook has to support Inuit in making near real-time decisions through active monitoring of environment and health conditions. As an excerpt explains:

All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”

To read the article, click on the picture below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 7.25.32 PM.png

Introducing… the InukSUK Program in Nunatsiavut, Labrador

For the past two years, I’ve been working with some wonderful folks in Nunatsiavut, Labrador to conceptualize, design, and develop an Inuit-led, Inuit-run community-based environment and health monitoring program. The InukSUK program is based on Inuit-identified priorities, ways of knowing, and cultural contexts, and unites cutting-edge app technology with traditional knowledge and storytelling. It’s an exciting new project, and we’re just in the early stages.

If you’re interested in learning more, click on the picture to read the full article, free online.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.37.29 AM

Big thanks to all the amazing people with whom I get to work:

Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. Dan Gillis, Charlie Flowers, Inez Shiwak, Dr. Chris Furgal, Dr. James Ford, Michele Wood, Tom Sheldon, Anna Bunce, Alex Sawatzky, Oliver Cook, and the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. And of course, to all the amazing people in Rigolet who have lent their time, ideas, wisdom, expertise, and knowledge to the development of this app, and will make the program possible. Nakummek!

New Article: IPCC Reports & Indigenous Inclusion

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guides global thought and action on climate change, bridging research, science, policy, and politics.

Yet, as we argue in a newly-published paper in Nature Climate Change, Indigenous voices, issues, and perspectives have been under-represented, leading to disparities in representation and gaps in policy and recommendations. We argue that the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) needs to better incorporate Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and ways of knowing in order to provide a more accurate and robust representation of climate change, mitigation, and adaptation.

Abstract

The IPCC is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, forming the interface between science, policy and global politics. Indigenous issues have been under-represented in previous IPCC assessments. In this Perspective, we analyse how indigenous content is covered and framed in the Working Group II (WGII) portion of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). We find that although there is reference to indigenous content in WGII, which increased from the Fourth Assessment Report, the coverage is general in scope and limited in length, there is little critical engagement with indigenous knowledge systems, and the historical and contextual complexities of indigenous experiences are largely overlooked. The development of culturally relevant and appropriate adaptation policies requires more robust, nuanced and appropriate inclusion and framing of indigenous issues in future assessment reports, and we outline how this can be achieved.

IPCC Article released

Graduate Student Reflection by Alex Sawatzky

Almost immediately upon returning from my trip to Rigolet in February, I was faced with the unavoidable, arguably unanswerable, question: so, how was it?

Even after having had time to reflect and process everything, I still struggle with answering this question. There is no way I can articulate exactly how I feel about Rigolet, about the incredible people I get to work with here, and about the project that I am lucky enough to be a part of. I think this struggle with putting my feelings into words is largely due to the fact that the project, the people, and the place are all intertwined, and they all became a part of my life so easily and so quickly that my words have trouble catching up to my emotions.

Before my first trip to Rigolet this past October, I was incredibly nervous. I was so intimidated at the prospect of being involved in such a large, interdisciplinary project. I didn’t exactly know where I would fit, let alone what the community would think of me. But as soon as I stepped off that first Air Labrador flight, all my fears disappeared and I knew I would never be the same.

Fast forward a few months, and before I knew it, I was back on a plane headed North with Dan, Oliver, and Ashlee. It was an amazing feeling, and an enormous privilege, to have the opportunity to return to Rigolet. Again, I was nervous, but this time my pre-trip jitters had more to do with being overwhelmingly excited to continue moving this project forward, to reconnect with people in the community, and to experience winter in all its Northern glory.

For a bit of background, our research involves the participatory development of a surveillance system, led by the community of Rigolet, to to track and respond to changes in the environment and resulting impacts on health and wellbeing. The basis of the approach we’re taking to build this project is to listen, learn, understand, and then respond to what the community needs and wants. To start this process, back In October we asked members of the community five main questions in a series of interviews and focus groups: (1) what are some important issues with regards to the environment and health; (2) what sorts of changes in the environment and resulting health impacts are you noticing in your community; (3) of these changes, what do you think is important to monitor/track; (4) how are you already keeping track of these changes; and (5) what sorts of tools/technologies (if any) are you using to do so?

As I was preparing to return in February, I thought critically about what we had learned from the community thus far, and how we might build off these initial discussions surrounding important environment-and health-related issues. However, in order to build from these discussions and move forward with the project in an appropriate way, I first needed to develop a deeper understanding of the reasons why these issues were important, who they were important to, and how they were prioritized. In short, I needed to ask some new questions.

I sat down with many of the same individuals who I had met with in October to present the preliminary findings and ask for their feedback. Then, I asked: (1) why are these issues important to you; (2) how would you prioritize these issues; (3) what are some ideas you have that could help make this program engaging and easy for people to use?

With each person or group I spoke with, my mind was blown over and over again by the depth and breadth of wisdom that is held in Rigolet. One of the key points brought up in this round of brainstorming sessions was that we need to work together to create a program that wouldn’t necessarily feel like a “program” – we need to create something that can be seamlessly incorporated into day-to-day life. Conversations like these made me realize over and over again what an honour it is to be working with and learning from this community. As always, the ways in which people described their connections to and relationships with the land absolutely blew me away. Although I will never even begin to know the true depth of the love that’s shared here between the land and its people, I am so grateful to be taking part in this learning journey.

During our trip, we also had the opportunity to engage in some hands-on, experiential learning on the land. Within a few hours of arriving in Rigolet, we took off with Sandi and Karl – our gracious hosts and dear friends – to spend the weekend at their cabin on English River – about a 2.5-hour skidoo ride outside of the community (mind you, this same trip typically takes Sandi and Karl about 1.5 hours). From the moment we left, we knew this would be the adventure of a lifetime. We left Rigolet in the late afternoon, and as we were making our way across Lake Melville we witnessed the most stunning sunset any of us have ever seen. The only description that somewhat captures this experience is that it felt like gliding above the surface of the clouds; hard to tell where the ice ended and the sky began. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this magical experience because it was way too cold to stop and pull out my camera. Yet, there is something to be said for just living in the moment and absorbing the surroundings without viewing them through a lens. Moreover, there is no way a photo could have captured that kind of beauty anyway (at least, no photo that I could take).

Our weekend at the cabin was filled with fun, adventures, and delicious food (everything tastes better when cooked on a wood stove). We had a massively successful ice fishing escapade, and Oliver and I even skinned our first rabbits under Sandi’s patient instruction and watchful eye. Sandi and Karl, I don’t think we can thank you enough for keeping us full, safe, warm, and smiling.

This experience also gave us many important insights that will be absolutely crucial to incorporate into our project as we learn to better understand how technological tools can help people keep track of various environmental observations and changes while they are on the land. For example, our phones and cameras would freeze at times, so using them outside in certain conditions was not feasible and is something we need to account for in developing the project. There was definitely something to be said about learning how to navigate through these unanticipated challenges firsthand.

Upon reflection, I am realizing that this project, these people, and this place all share the same part of my heart – a part of my heart that I most certainly didn’t realize was missing until I found it. I feel so fortunate to be working with a team of community partners and researchers that is so incredibly supportive of each other. We hold the same basic values, share a deep and indescribable love of the North, and we take our research as seriously as we do our long underwear and scavenger hunts. Through these experiences, I’m finding that in order to do your best work and be your best self, it helps to be surrounded by people who bring out the best parts of you.

In terms of the place, its immense beauty never ceases to amaze me. There are really no words, only feelings. The colours are brighter, the food is tastier, the air is fresher, and life feels more authentic. It’s a place where I can let my guard down, open myself to change, and challenge myself to grow. But no matter what I say about it or how I try to describe it, there is so much more that I can’t even begin to describe. That which no words can capture. I truly feel as though I left a part of my heart there. This is something I struggle with articulating because I know that no matter how much I learn about/love this place, I will always be an outsider, a stranger to the land. I will never know the love that these people have for their homeland, and that which the land has for them. So thank you, Rigolet, for welcoming us Southerners with open arms and allowing us to share in your incredible beauty and wonder. As I’m slowly running out of words to capture how I feel about working, learning, loving, and growing in this place, I’ll call upon the help of Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway author:

“To be struck by the magnificence of nature is to be returned again, in those all too brief moments, to the innocence that we were born in. Awe. Wonder. Humility. We draw it into use and are altered forever by the unquestionable presence of the Creator. All things ringing true together. Carrying that deep sense of communion back into our work-day life, everyone we meet becomes the direct beneficiary of our having taken the time for connection, prayer, and gratitude. This is what we are here for – to remind each other of where the truth lies and the power of simple ceremony.”

Alex Sawatzky is a PhD Student at the University of Guelph, working with myself and Dr. Sherilee Harper