Dr. Myrle Ballard has joined Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to form the department’s first Indigenous Science Division. While on a year-long work exchange from the University of Manitoba, she is leading a permanent team at the department to advance reconciliation in ECCC’s science and research activities. ECCC is the first federal government department to launch such a division, and Dr. Ballard tells us about this exciting and important work.
Dr. Myrle Ballard’s greatest challenge has the potential to also be her greatest success in her new role as the Director of the new Indigenous Science Division (ISD) at ECCC. “The goal is fostering awareness of Indigenous Science at the department,” she says. “There are other knowledge systems out there that can be equally as effective as Western knowledge.” Fostering awareness will be challenging and it will be an indicator of success as she guides the department in understanding Indigenous Science as a distinct, time-tested and methodological knowledge system that will enhance and complement Western science.
Breaking new ground
Standing up this permanent division at ECCC is part of Canada’s commitment to reconciliation and follows the call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that Indigenous ways of knowing be included in both government and academia. “Having Dr. Ballard with us goes beyond simply meeting the Government of Canada’s reconciliation mandate: Indigenous Peoples are our natural partners on the environment. They have a lot of knowledge to bring to our science and research activities as we work together on environmental and wildlife protection, conservation and climate change,” says Marc D’Iorio, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Science and Technology Branch.
Indigenous Science Defined
The terms Indigenous Knowledge, Local Knowledge and Traditional Knowledge are often used to describe the knowledge systems of Indigenous Peoples. Dr. Ballard cautions that these terms are very broad and can refer to everything from childcare practices to how traditional housing is built. She says it’s important to differentiate Indigenous Science from these other terms in order to start thinking about it on the same level of Western science. “Indigenous Science is about the knowledge of the environment and knowledge of the ecosystem that Indigenous Peoples have,” she explains. “It is the knowledge of survival since time immemorial and includes knowledge of plants, the weather, animal behavior and patterns, birds and water – that is how they survived.” While with ECCC on a one-year work term through the Interchange program, Dr. Ballard plans to apply the concept of EDI, or Equity Diversity and Inclusion that is usually associated with hiring practices, to the knowledge systems so that Indigenous Science is respected as equal to Western science.
Of Three Worlds
Dr. Ballard will tell you that she comes from a combination of three worlds. Her first is growing up on the land speaking Anishinaabe mowin as her first language and her experiential life on her reserve. Her second is Western science having earned her PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental management. Her third world is academia and government. Dr. Ballard is a professor at the University of Manitoba where her research focuses on Three-Eyed Seeing and using Indigenous language as a baseline indicator of changes in the ecosystem. Combining her lived experiences allows her to bridge and bring all sides together, while appreciating different perspectives. “Dr. Ballard’s arrival to the Science and Technology Branch is an important milestone,” says Joanne Volk, Director General of the Science and Technology Strategies Directorate. “It comes at a time when we are trying to increase Indigenous perspectives into our work through the creation of a new team that will advance our reconciliation efforts in our science and research activities. We are very excited to work with Dr. Ballard and her team.”
As Dr. Ballard continues to build the ISD,her vision is taking shape. She plans to deepen the understanding of terms like bridging, braiding and weaving as science collaborations continue with ECCC researchers and Indigenous partners and new working relationships are formed to carry out the department’s mandate to protect and conserve healthy wildlife populations across Canada, and minimize threats to Canadians and their environment. Dr. Ballard explains that bridging is what the department is doing right now by starting this new division to bring Indigenous Science awareness to the Western science inside the department. Bridging is followed by braiding where people on the land, such as fisher or hunters, will be the first to identify if there is a change in how the water or wildlife look. Weaving is the next step, in which Indigenous Science will be used as a tool in the department’s approach to environmental issues and species management.
“I’m very excited to be creating this division,” says Dr. Ballard. “It is the first of its kind and will be used as a model for other federal government. This is groundbreaking!”