Norma Kassi highlights the value of community-based research in Northern Canada
Canadian Mountain Network Co-Research Director Norma Kassi is helping indigenous communities ensure they are actively involved in scientific research in Canada’s North. In her recent interview in Up Here Magazine, she states, “Now our approach is: nothing about us will be without us.”
Norma was raised in Old Crow, the northernmost community in Yukon. As a member of the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation and the Wolf Clan, local traditional knowledge was passed down to her from a young age. Norma has been working on issues related to food security, climate change, wildlife protection, youth engagement and building community capacity for over 30 years.
Northern indigenous peoples have had challenging experiences with scientific researchers due to problems related to consent, knowledge management and ownership, communication and lack of respect. New efforts are ensuring research considers the needs and concerns of local indigenous communities.
In 2007, Norma co-founded the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research to involve local indigenous communities in scientific research projects in Northern Canada. Community-based research is centered on equitable partnerships and collaboration between scientific researchers and local indigenous communities, who share decision-making and ownership, and contribute expertise.
Research cannot begin until researchers have met with the Elder’s Council to gather recommendations. A committee is formed to guide the project and elders are paid for their services. Community members are interviewed to understand local traditional and ecological knowledge. After the project is finished, local representatives make recommendations to be implemented into policy and action.
Norma says, “We’ve had scientific ingenuity in our homelands for thousands of years. Now, world leaders are recognizing our knowledge—and that traditional knowledge is profound.”
Community-based research is win-win: community involvement is essential for the success and relevance of scientific research. In turn, the research engages local communities in setting research directions, which can influence policy decisions. These policies can help improve access to clean drinking water and renewable energy like wind and solar power, as well as preserve local biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change.