University of Saskatchewan, UNESCO research collaboration promotes relationship-building in field work

Liam Richards/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The University of Saskatchewan campus is seen in this aerial photo take above Saskatoon in September of 2019.

Kimiya Shokoohi, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A new proposal by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan is focusing on a guiding principle that seeks to remedy field work through a relationship-building approach.

Responding to local needs and providing support through community-engaged research is the change proposed by U of S researchers Maureen Reed and Jim Robson. An international group has been working under the banner of the U of S’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chair in Biocultural Diversity, Sustainability, Reconciliation, and Renewal to enhance sustainability research.

“Part of it is to build trust,” said Reed, who serves with Robson as UNESCO co-chair.

The federal Indigenous Natural Resource Partnerships Program “said, ‘Well we’ve always worked on the basis of friendship, developing friends, allies and partners,’ ” Reed added.

“If we think about research as an act of developing friendship and alliances, those things build trust in one another and a sense of that relationship for how we conduct ourselves.”

The principles developed by Reed and Robson include not gleaning information and all but disappearing, but rather building those relationships so that the work is more inclusive of all parties involved. They aim to learn and understand, rather than exert their own perspective and seek to exploit.

Projects at the U of S that are expected to follow this new guideline include students working in the fire zone of the Boreal Plains in and around La Ronge; a conversation with equity project in the UNESCO-designated Redberry Lake Biosphere Region; and Indigenous-led restoration efforts in northern Saskatchewan on the effect of engagement rather than mere consultation by Crown Corporations with Indigenous peoples.

They have identified seven guiding principles, including self-determination and nationhood; reciprocal relationships; co-creating the research agenda; generating meaningful benefits for communities; approaching research in a manner that reassures accountability; ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion; as well as emphasizing critical reflection and sharing.

The approach can go beyond academic research, they say. It can be applicable to virtually anyone who works in the field with Indigenous and rural communities, and those whose livelihoods depend to a degree on local natural resources.

Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.