Science in Indigenous homelands: addressing power and justice in sustainability science from/with/in the Penobscot River

Abstract

Sustainability science offers an alternative space for research that challenges colonial histories of western science, especially in its orientation to interdisciplinarity and for addressing complex problems through equitable knowledge co-production processes. However, the justice-oriented commitments within sustainability science remain underdeveloped, in particular for centering indigenous research methods (IRM) and promoting decolonization of academic institutions. In this paper, we draw from more than 10 years of experience across three cases of conducting sustainability science in Indigenous homelands. The cases focus on (1) adaptive responses to the Emerald Ash Borer insect which threatens black ash basketmaking cultures and economies; (2) efforts to link science with decision making to protect public health and reduce shellfish bed closures; and (3) collaborative research to support dam removal and river restoration. We identify tensions in science as a discourse, including how sustainability science is uniquely shaped by practices of naming and social constructions of time. We then describe how we engage these tensions through four main commitments to critical praxis, or tailored practices that respond to emergent problems and systems of power. These commitments include centering Wabanaki diplomacy and IRMs, redesigning all stages of research for inclusivity and dialogue, attending to multiple temporalities, and supporting Wabanaki and Indigenous students as leaders and researchers. To conclude, we reflect on how these practices may be adapted to other contexts, histories, and sustainability-related issues.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Maine, black ash is commonly referred to as brown ash.

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Acknowledgements

McGreavy and Ranco share the first authorship and request that references to this paper acknowledge this in citation practices (e.g. McGreavy, Ranco et al.). We are grateful to the co-authors for their contributions to the projects, writing, and dialogues over many years of effort and the many participants and collaborators in this ongoing work. We thank Gregg Walker for his early feedback and encouragement on the FoD advisory board.

Funding

This research was supported by National Science Foundation grants (EPS-0904155, IIA-1330691, and IIA-1539071) to the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire and the University of Rhode Island.

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Correspondence to Bridie McGreavy or Darren Ranco.

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McGreavy, B., Ranco, D., Daigle, J. et al. Science in Indigenous homelands: addressing power and justice in sustainability science from/with/in the Penobscot River. Sustain Sci (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-021-00904-3

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Keywords

  • Indigenous research methods
  • Sustainability science
  • Discourse
  • Rhetoric
  • Time
  • Critical praxis