Ktaqmkuk (the Mi’kmaw place name referring to the island of Newfoundland), has been an important hunting territory that has been travelled by Mi’kmaq for generations. Many Mi’kmaw communities across Ktaqmkuk continue to hold rich cultural history, tradition, and environmental knowledge.
Grenfell Campus has formally committed to ensure that research embraces a collaborative, anti-oppressive approach with Indigenous communities in the province, including Ktaqmkuk Mi’kmaw communities. To fulfill this commitment, the university has much to learn. An important part of this commitment includes building strong relationships among community members who engage with researchers and students, facilitating mutually beneficial partnerships.
Through his work in the Flat Bay area, Mr. Ayotunde Omosule, a Master of Arts in Environmental Policy (MAEP) 2018 graduate, found not only the groundwork for his education, but also learned more about himself and the land that surrounded him.
Originally from Nigeria, Mr. Omosule has a background in law, which opened the doors of an internship for him at the Indigenous community of Flat Bay, N.L. There he worked with community members during the time when the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (now dissolved) granted an extension for appeals for people whose applications for Indian status were denied.
Recognizing that little is known about how some Indigenous communities are approaching and resolving their water challenges, and to address this scholarship deficit, Mr. Omosule explored the efforts of one of such community, a Mi’kmaw community: the Flat Bay Indian Band. His research took the form of a single case study of the water situation in Flat Bay, to showcase water security issues faced by Indigenous communities in Canada. Mr Omosule’s choice of Flat Bay as the research community was the result of his reading of through articles as well as through conversations about water insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador. His initial contact with the Flat Bay community was facilitated by Kelly Ann Butler, Student Affairs Officer – Aboriginal, Grenfell Campus.
Drawing on his research experience, he questioned:
“How can a developed country such as Canada have communities without potable drinking water?”
He further stated:
“Indigenous people have spiritual and cultural connections to water, which water challenges negate”
and that it is troubling that Indigenous communities in Canada continue to face and experience deplorable water conditions.
To integrate into the community, Mr. Omusule’s research adopted the ethnographic research method. He partook in daily cultural activities such as moose hunting, ice fishing, rabbit snaring and berry picking. By engaging in these activities, he had the opportunity to understand Indigenous people’s connection to the land at a more personal level. According to him:
“it was such a lovely experience as the Flat Bay people were so friendly and receptive. I was warmly embraced by the community members”.
Mr. Omosule’s research suggests that for the water challenges of the community to be fully resolved, local capacity must be enhanced. Other factors include the recognition of the community’s Indigenous status and increased participation by Flat Bay in decision making processes relating to water.
An Indigenous Approach from a non-Indigenous Researcher
Mr. Brady Reid, a 2019 MAEP graduate, came back to Corner Brook, his home, after finishing his undergraduate degree in Nova Scotia. He knew that he wanted to do local research while exploring his identity as a founding member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. At Grenfell, he connected with Kelly Anne Butler from the office of Indigenous Affairs.
“As one of the communities represented by Qalipu, outside readers may look at my card as a status-Indian and assume I share the worldview of the community, but immediately I recognized that my lived-experiences were different. There is a deeper connection with Mi’kmaw culture and traditions within the community that runs thicker than genes,”
said Mr. Reid about starting his research in Ewipkek, the Mi’kmaw place name for the community of Flat Bay.
He acknowledged that there is a strong cultural connection that was only gained through lived experience. Growing up in a more urban, settler culture in Corner Brook, Reid recognized that his distant ancestry did not translate directly to Mi’kmaw identity. While ancestry and heritage is important, Mr. Reid states that people choosing to identify a particular way based on distant bloodlines, should reflect critically on their experiences in a contemporary context. He recognized that as an emerging researcher, he would not self-identify as an “Indigenous scholar” because that terminology does not match how he identifies as a settler with Mi’kmaw heritage. Not denying his Mi’kmaw heritage, Mr. Reid states that his interest with collaborative research involving Indigenous communities will be one way that he reconciles the tension that he has felt with his identity. Any research he undertook would have to be scrutinized to ensure that it was responsibly done, that it would be accomplished through a strong collaboration with the community, and that the benefits would equate or surpass the risks put forth by the participants.
“There is a lot of community-based research that doesn’t always work,”
Mr. Reid said, adding that communities are unique with respect to the combination of issues they face.
The research project that Mr. Reid and the rural community of Ewipkek constructed identified residents’ continued struggle to have an empowered voice in environmental decision-making processes. Take, for example, the consultations several years ago for the Maritime Link Project, a 500-megawatt transmission link with roughly 300 km of overland transmission in Ktamqkuk. Part of this transmission line expanded an existing transmission corridor near the community of Ewipkek, and while the proponent of the project, Emera NL, engaged with the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, the community of Ewipkek felt their concerns were not prioritized. Mr. Reid noted that Qalipu is a “landless band,” which means they hold no title to any territory and continue to live on crown land. This disadvantages rural Mi’kmaw communities like Ewipkek who still rely on the land and traditional harvesting (hunting, berry picking, etc.) to supplement their income and provide food for their families and community.
When Mr. Omosule and Mr. Reid started engaging with people in Flat Bay, they were unaware that they would be leaving the community with much more than a set of data. They both were mesmerized by the wealth of traditional knowledge available to those who seek to understand Indigenous peoples’ matters. Mr. Omosule wants to emphasize how important it is to strengthen collaboration bonds with Indigenous communities around Newfoundland and Labrador to
“increase communication and establish good rapport with the chiefs of the communities,”
which can be achieved through an environment that allows for symposia, talks and cross fertilization of ideas, said Mr. Omosule.
Mr. Reid wishes to extend his
“greatest gratitude towards the community, who put their knowledge out there and trusted a researcher,”
and encourages others to work with the Qalipu because there is room for many projects in their communities.
Written by Mayra Sanchez; Edited by Ayotunde Omosule and Brady Reid.