Panel Takeaways: The Influence of Indigenous Knowledge on Policy and Practice

CANADIAN SCIENCE POLICY CONFERENCE, Nov. 13-15, 2019, Ottawa, Westin Hotel

The Influence of Indigenous Knowledge on Policy and Practice, Nov. 14

Panel Organized by: Genome BC | Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences


Indigenous knowledge can have a large and meaningful impact on society, both through public policy and through the practices promoted by organizations and professionals who work with Indigenous communities. How can this potential be supported and an equal partnership in decision-making advanced? What is the role of Indigenous knowledge in "evidence-based policy" and in scientifically-based questions, technologies, and practice? Join us for a thought-provoking discussion with practitioners, researchers, policy-makers, and community members on their experiences and ways forward when tackling such questions.


  • Kim TallBear (moderator), Associate Professor, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta; Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment

  • Vanessa Watts, Academic Director, Indigenous Studies Program, McMaster University (Federation speaker)

  • Nadine Caron, Associate Professor, UBC Northern Medical Program; Co-Director, UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health

  • Manon Tremblay, Director, Indigenous Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Federation speaker)

  • Pitseolak Pfeifer, Community Engagement Advisor & Owner, Inuit Solutions (Federation speaker)

  • Gary Q Bull, Professor and Head of Forest Resources Management Department, University of British Columbia

  • Stephen F. Cross, Director of Applied Research Chair at Conestoga College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning; Associate Professor at the University of Victoria; Adjunct Professor in Vancouver Island University’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture

Listen to a recording of the panel, view photos or visit the CSPC 2019 website for more information.

Panel recommendations

  1. "Indigenous knowledge systems," rather than "Indigenous knowledge," is a more appropriate notion to underpin the fact that we are talking about complex, diverse ontologies and epistemologies, which inform Indigenous worldviews and science and which can work in partnership with Western scientific knowledge.

  2. Agencies, post-secondary institutions, and government departments fail to examine Western conceptual and practice colonial roots and biases, and to what extent projects, programs, and policy lead to work and results that are substantially relevant to Indigenous peoples.

  3. Indigenous peoples want a seat at the table as equal partners in policy and decision-making, not as token participants.

  4. There are systemic barriers at every level of agency in practice and public policy, including relating to process, which prevent Indigenous peoples from contributing fully to decision-making. This state of affairs undermines Indigenous self-determination and equal partnership.

  5. Relationship-building in research and policy-making takes time (see point about process), but it generates trust and ensures meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples.

  6. Indigenous knowledge systems have circular, holistic thinking approaches, which comes in contrast to the federal public service linear processes.

  7. Indigenous people end up leaving the federal public service because they feel a power imbalance still exists and because of lagging hiring practices and internal processes.

  8. The industry of policy, industry of research, and industry of science are “extractive industries” that have created generations of privileged experts, reinforcing colonial ways of doing things


  1. There is a need to move from addressing how to do research with Indigenous peoples ethically to next steps: i. putting the tools and processes in place that empower Indigenous peoples to do the research that matters to their communities, in their own ways; ii. reforming current structures to allow meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples in research and policy-making (e.g. funding, timelines, hiring practices).

  2. Addressing structural change starts with individual attitudes, awareness of the complexity and diversity of Indigenous knowledge systems, focusing on outcomes rather than deliverables.

  3. Institutions or agencies should take the time to build relationships before moving forward in research. The development of a sustainable aquaculture industry on the west coast of Vancouver Island and the establishment of northern B.C.’s first BioBank are examples of initiatives that saw an opportunity or challenge, and then took the time necessary to meaningfully consult with First Nations to incorporate their perspectives, knowledge, and interests in the outcome.

  4. Funding agencies need to recognize that it takes a lot more time to engage with Indigenous peoples and that their focus is on meaningful input and solutions/results that help their communities rather than “publish or perish.”

  5. We have to move away from a consultative process and toward a long-term relationship that doesn’t go with a set deadline. Recognize that for Indigenous peoples the relationship doesn’t end when the project ends, or when funding runs out – it’s long-term.