The Ocean Frontier Institute Launches Indigenous Engagement Guide and Training for Ocean Researchers

Since 2018, the Ocean Frontier Institute has worked with its Committee on Indigenous (Inuit, Métis, and First Nation) Engagement to develop an Indigenous Engagement Guide for ocean researchers. The Guide, soft launched in March 2021, was collaboratively developed with Indigenous communities, organizations, and governments, and provides an important first step in the active incorporation of Indigenous interests and rights into the Ocean Frontier Institute’s ongoing vision for North Atlantic research and environmental stewardship. 

“We have constructed an Indigenous Engagement Guide, which has taken a year's work” said Dr. Anya Waite, CEO & Scientific Director of the Ocean Frontier Institute. “We’ve built something informative that's going to introduce researchers to the huge variety of cultures and structures for Indigenous ocean research, particularly in Atlantic Canada.”

The regional focus of the Indigenous Engagement Guide is Indigenous groups in the Atlantic Provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. “Our guide focuses on the three Canadian maritime provinces and Labrador, where there's a lot of research going on,” said Dr. Waite.

It is the Ocean Frontier Institute’s intent that the Guide be a living document, one that is continuously updated over time as feedback is received from the ocean community. “The Guide is always going to be an open document, but we're at the end of the first major draft. It's had significant input from a number of different formal and informal Indigenous groups across Atlantic Canada, so we're hoping that it will have a long life, and will inform researchers going forward on what they need to know, and how they can gain that understanding in order to engage,” said Dr. Waite.

The Indigenous Engagement Guide’s soft launch coincided with Canada’s official launch of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainability on March 3, 2021 – an intentional decision made by our team, said Dr. Waite. Therefore, in addition to its existence as an Ocean Frontier Institute document, the Indigenous Engagement Guide will act as a tool accessible in conjunction with Canada’s UN Ocean Decade work [link here if we have it up there by then]. It is lodged within the international ocean best practices system. 

Shifting to More Inclusive Ocean Research

The development of the Guide is also part of a larger push to facilitate efforts toward respectful and meaningful engagement with Indigenous governments, communities, and organizations. The Ocean Frontier Institute’s Strategic Framework 2018-2022 affirms a commitment to engage stakeholders and Indigenous peoples in ocean management solutions and build support for ocean research and its applications. The Indigenous Engagement Guide will help inform OFI researchers on how to appropriately consider stakeholder and Indigenous priorities, values and knowledge.

This initiative also recognizes and seeks to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action, Education for Reconciliation, calls 62: ii (TRC 2015), The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct of Research Involving Humans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 9 (TCPS 2 2018) and aspires to align with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP 2008).  

Dr. Eric Oliver, an Indigenous Ocean Frontier Institute researcher, hopes that with the Guide, Indigenous considerations will become a natural part of the research process. “What I hope to see is researchers being able figure out for themselves how this is supposed to be done, and have it just become part of the process. For example, in putting a proposal together, needing to get to letters of support and budgeting to make sure that Indigenous engagement is done properly, to whatever extent is relevant for the kind of research. In that way it becomes less of a confusing burden and more of just part of how research is supposed to be done.”

Dr. Waite discussed the shift in mindset that the Guide is asking of ocean researchers. “We’re trying to open ourselves up to Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous wisdom, and that has to be a very active process, because it puts the researcher in the position of being the learner rather than the teller. For many scientists, that switches things around, because they've been lecturing all their life, they're a senior professor, they're used to being the one with the knowledge and the information. But now we need to go into a room, and we need to listen. That's a huge pivot for most of us. It's now about going into a room and understanding that it is not your job to lead the conversation. It is your job to listen and see where you can be making links across the concepts, and then gently start to make those, and then step away. So it's a completely different construct of research conversation.”

Raising the Baseline for Ocean Researchers

The Indigenous Engagement Guide will be a first-of-its-kind tool for Ocean Frontier Institute researchers going forward, particularly important as the six Phase II Large Research Projects funded by the Ocean Frontier Institute in 2020 will all have significant and intentional Indigenous engagement. 

Alongside the Guide, the Ocean Frontier Institute is also launching Indigenous cultural awareness training in July 2021 for Dalhousie University and UPEI researchers and staff, with access for Memorial University to follow soon after. Dr. Waite emphasized the importance of all researchers and staff receiving at least some level of training on Indigenous engagement, regardless of their research topic or direct interaction with Indigenous communities. “We have identified a series of online training sessions to give all Ocean Frontier Institute researchers and staff some exposure to Indigenous training. Even someone who is never going to physically encounter an Indigenous community needs to understand Indigenous issues.”

Providing all researchers and staff with Indigenous cultural awareness training will help the Ocean Frontier Institute further collective learning and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to collaborate with Indigenous peoples on ocean research. “We want to try and lift the baseline for all of our researchers and staff in terms of Indigenous training. Once you do that, it turns around your position, and you're in a learning space rather than information-sharing space, and I think that really changes the dialogue in a positive way,” said Dr. Waite.

Dr. Oliver also discussed the importance of all personnel receiving some level of Indigenous cultural awareness training: “Even research that we think is totally divorced from any issues related to Indigenous communities is likely not. In particular, we're talking about resource development, fisheries, those sorts of topics, where Indigenous communities have not necessarily been involved in that research or process. So this training can hopefully bring awareness to folks that think their research is not related, because in reality, it may be indirectly related. So there's a base level there of knowledge and training that can help.”

Read the Ocean Frontier Institute’s Indigenous Engagement Guide for Ocean Researchers here.

Ocean Frontier Institute researchers and staff at Dalhousie University and UPEI can access the Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training here (access for Memorial University to follow).