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When western and Indigenous science and knowledge come together: Collaborative research centred on knowledge co-creation

Blending western and Indigenous science and knowledge isn’t always an easy thing! Nevertheless, the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) has chosen to meet the challenge by daring to do forest science research differently. For the past year, CFS has been working on integrating a collaborative approach based on scientific and Indigenous knowledge co-creation into its practices.

The Laurentian Forestry Centre (LFC) is one of six research centres in CFS whose work focusses mainly on research related to forested land. LFC intends to integrate collaboration with Indigenous communities into its practices as more than 70% of Indigenous people in Canada live in or near forests and have knowledge spanning generations about their traditional lands.

A collaborative research approach

In partnership with the Chair of Educational Leadership in Indigenous Forestry at Laval University, LFC has undertaken a process that identifies best practices in conducting collaborative research with Indigenous peoples in Canada.

As a result of workshops with researchers and members of the Pessamit First Nation, the participants expressed a preference to collaborate through knowledge co-creation. This method involves active participation by collaborators at all stages of the research process, from project conception to publication of the results.

Workshop participants then compared the maps locating the traditional and claimed territories of the Indigenous peoples in Quebec with the study sites operated by LFC researchers. This workshop showed that the activities of the research teams took place in traditional and claimed territories.

Map showing Traditional and Claimed Indigenous Territories in Quebec and the Maritimes.
Traditional and Claimed Indigenous Territories. These boundaries do not totally correspond to those officially recognized by the Government of Canada.
Map showing experimental sites of the Laurentian Forestry Centre (Canadian Forest Service) and Indigenous communities in Quebec.
Experimental sites of Laurentian Forestry Centre (LFC) and Quebec's Indigenous communities.
Map summary

The first of two map graphics shows Traditional and Claimed Indigenous Territories in Quebec. These boundaries do not totally correspond to those officially recognized by the Government of Canada. The second of two map graphics shows the locations of experimental sites of the Laurentian Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service, and Indigenous communities in Quebec. Together, the two maps show that the experimental sites are all found within at least one Traditional and/or Claimed Indigenous Territory.

A practical guide

Following the workshops, LFC proposed tools and practices that its scientific teams can use for collaborative research with Indigenous communities, based on ethical principles. This information was published in a report to guide the researchers in the process of co-creating knowledge with the participation of Indigenous communities, titled: Initiative for Knowledge Co-creation in Collaboration With Indigenous Communities. Basic approach: Ethics of research.

This report examines various aspects of research processes, including first contact with the communities; formulating the research questions; identifying research objectives; collecting and analyzing data; and publishing results. Guidance on these aspects is in accordance with the principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (OCAP) and in accordance with the research protocols produced by various Indigenous organizations. The guide presents both the importance of knowledge co-creation for the Indigenous communities and the shared benefits for both groups.

This practical guide on knowledge co-creation will facilitate the implementation of more exhaustive and more inclusive new projects. Be curious, read these guides and learn – Canadian forests can only benefit!

A successful method

Several projects have already benefited from this innovative approach of knowledge co-creation. One such project involves woodland caribou habitat. Following an initial visit to the forest on their Nitassinan (traditional land), the Pessamit First Nation welcomed an LFC research team for a discussion to establish first contact and identify areas of common interests. During this first visit, issues of common interest were discussed.

This exchange of knowledge made it possible to jointly conceive of a project analyzing woodland caribou habitat. The project was adapted to take into account the Pessamit community’s empirical knowledge of how the woodland caribou use the land in different seasons. In this way, the community’s participation and their knowledge made it possible to meet the research objectives and facilitate the project’s implementation.

For the Pessamit community, this is a new approach. They can see that the researchers want to learn more and are taking the time to understand the community’s interests and needs in terms of research on the land. The Pessamit stakeholders say that the work is being done collaboratively and that they are truly participating in the research. As a result of working together to build the relationship, the community sees that their expertise and their knowledge are being taken seriously and are valued!

BudCam: A network of collaboration

In this project, a national monitoring network that follows climate change effects on the timing of black spruce budburst – when the first leaves appear at the beginning of the season – thanks to collaboration with Indigenous communities. As part of this project, artificial intelligence is used to automate the detection of open black spruce buds in thousands of photos taken at regular intervals, allowing researchers to study the influence of the climate change on budburst phenology of this tree species. The BudCam project researchers plan to develop additional national indicators of climate change with Indigenous communities using knowledge co-creation.

What does the Pessamit community think about the BudCam Project?

“There is impact for both the Pessamit and the LFC research teams. We’re exchanging knowledge about the land, and we’re creating new knowledge. Other exchanges are also taking place! For example, we’re sharing equipment and materials that we’re using for our own projects. It’s important to remember that this can also lead to other joint projects.” — Pessamit Innu Council, Land and Resources Sector.

To learn more, visit the BudCam project website.

A camera attached to a tree.
This camera takes photos at regular intervals to monitor black spruce budburst phenology, detected by artificial intelligence.
Computer rendering of open black spruce buds.
Open black spruce buds detected by the artificial intelligence model.
Sources and information

Number of Indigenous people that live in or near forests

Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service. Calculations based on Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census of Population and Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service’s National Forest Inventory’s forested land cover.

  • National Forest Inventory
  • Statistics Canada. 2016 Census of Population
    • Spatial (geographic information system) analysis used the two previous sources to calculate the percentage of forest cover by census subdivision (CSD). To be considered forested, a CSD needed to contain >=25% of forested land cover. Populations residing within those forested CSDs are considered living in or near forests.
    • This analysis is based on Statistics Canada’s census subdivisions. A subdivision is “the general term for municipalities (as determined by provincial/territorial legislation) or areas treated as municipal equivalents for statistical purposes (e.g. Indian reserves, Indian settlements and unorganized territories).” Since there is no standardized definition of community across provinces and territories, using census subdivisions allows for a consistent approach in reporting over time. In 2016, Canada was divided into 5,161 census subdivisions.
Photo credit
  • Photo of Budcam camera and photo of budburst from Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service.

This article is from The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report 2020. Download the PDF version from our publications database.

Table of contents — The State of Canada's Forests Report

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