'Nothing about us without us'

Werklund professor awarded SSHRC grant to centre Blackfoot knowledge in community-driven research

“Nothing about us without us” is an oft used phrase when it comes to engaging in research with communities that are marginalized and oppressed. For Dr. Karlee Fellner, PhD, who is of Cree/Métis lineage, it is more than a mere platitude, it is the central tenet of her work with local Indigenous communities.

Fellner, an associate professor in the Werklund School of Education, and her collaborators from the Siksikaitsitapi — Blackfoot speaking people — were recently awarded a SSHRC Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation — Connection Grant for their proposal, "Engaging Niitsitapiisinni: Centring Blackfoot Knowledges in Community-Driven Research," which aims to support community-led research and knowledge mobilization within the Blackfoot Confederacy.

“Numerous community-based studies and reports, including the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, are calling for community-driven approaches to research that benefits Indigenous communities in culturally relevant ways,” explains Fellner. “Initiatives including art and film workshops have resulted in some exceptional work geared toward language and cultural revitalization, and Blackfoot approaches to wellness and education.”

Fellner’s own Poo'miikapii: Niitsitapii Approaches to Wellness and Niitsitapiisinni: Real People’s Way of Life Master of Education programs, which were developed in collaboration with Kainai and Amskapi Piikani community leaders and elders, can be counted among these successful initiatives, but she acknowledges that more can be done.

“There is a need for community-driven knowledge mobilization from these existing projects, as well as additional in-depth research of these initiatives by the community, and capacity building among community members to carry out even more research themselves.”

Fellner among three UCalgary scholars to receive first SSHRC grant of its kind

Addressing these needs along with the opportunity to bolster reconciliation between research institutions and First Nations communities prompted Fellner to apply for the SSHRC grant.

This grant is the first of its kind from SSHRC. The Indigenous Research Capacity and Reconciliation — Connection Grants represent the federal government’s commitment to support interdisciplinary Indigenous research that advances understanding of reconciliation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Three UCalgary researchers were awarded funding: Fellner; Dr. Peter Dawson, PhD, professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology; and Dr. Gina Starblanket, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science.

“This is just one of many ways that ii' taa'poh'to'p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is decolonizing and Indigenizing ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being on campus,” says Dr. Andre Buret, interim vice-president (research). “Language revitalization will profoundly affect the future of our country, and I am proud to see UCalgary make an impact.” The year 2019 has also been named the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.

Gatherings have a direct benefit for Indigenous community members

With the funding, Fellner and her team recently hosted a Niitsitapi community gathering in Lethbridge, with community leaders, knowledge holders and elders from all four bands of the Siksikaitsitapi. Participants discussed the role of research in bringing together information in a way that will directly benefit the community as well as their collective vision for community-driven research and support of community-based researchers among the Siksikaitsitapi.

“This community-engaged work that we’re doing is really exciting. We are seeing more and more research that is by, with, and for our communities, and that is truly having a direct and immediate benefit on community members, including our Indigenous children and youth.”

Fellner’s team will host a second workshop with Indigenous academics and community members to build on the insights already gained. In addition, she plans to document the process as an example of the mutually respectful relationship and ongoing collaboration between researchers at the University of Calgary and the surrounding Blackfoot communities.

“Our recent community gathering had a number of incredible ideas for how the university can even further strengthen collaboration with local communities and increase the number of local, Niitsitapi researchers. It will be exciting to see where this work goes.”

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.