Report from the LRPIC

By / par Chris Wilson (Chair, LRPIC)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2021)

The Long Range Plan Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC) has continued to meet weekly over the fall. In October 2021 we added two additional members: Hilding Neilson from the University of Toronto and Laurie Rousseau-Nepton from CFHT.

The main activity of LCRIC in the past 3 months has been organizing and holding an on-line webinar on “Building Indigenous inclusion in Canadian astronomy in the next decade” on November 10, 2021. For the benefit of members who were not able to attend, or who were able to attend but wish to review the discussion, we provide a description of the questions and answers in a companion article in this issue. Additional LCRIC activities in the past 3 months include:

  1. Planning for 3 webinars focused on specific Indigenous-facing recommendations from LRP2020. The planned topics for these webinars are (a) Including Indigenous Voices in Astronomy Education; (b) improving inclusion in Canadian astronomy, for both Indigenous and other racialized members; (c) land and consent, likely focusing on the specific topic of the SKA. The LCRIC has fairly detailed plans for these webinars, and is working to finalize the set of panelists for the first one. We were hoping to hold these webinars in fall 2021, but clearly it will now be winter 2022. The goal is to hold one webinar each month in the first quarter of 2022.
  2. A meeting with 3 representatives from CFHT in October to inform them of LCRIC’s plans and so that LCRIC could learn about current issues and relevant activities at CFHT and to some extent in Hawai`i more broadly.
  3. A meeting with the CASCA Education and Public Outreach committee in November to discuss their plans for the Westar lectureship and other EPO-facing recommendations of LRP2020.
  4. A meeting with the CASCA Postdoc Committee in November to discuss their priorities for the postdoc-facing recommendations of LRP2020.
  5. Writing a Confidentiality Agreement to govern LCRIC interactions, which has been signed by each committee member.
  6. Writing a Code of Conduct for LCRIC.

Over the next 3 months, the LCRIC plans to organize and host the 3 webinars described in item (1) above. A second major activity will be continuing our discussion of the key LRP2020 recommendation on land and consent (recommendation #1), with the goal of having some initial ideas that can be presented to the CASCA membership at the May 2022 AGM. We will also be meeting with additional CASCA committees, such as the Sustainability Committee, to discuss LRP2020 recommendations in their area of interest in the coming months. Finally, we will begin working on an implementation timeline for the LRP2020 societal recommendations.

The LCRIC recognizes that transparency and consultation are very important as our community moves forward to implement the recommendations of the LRP. We will be seeking input from a diversity of perspectives, recognizing that astronomy and astronomers exist with a broader societal context. We welcome feedback and comments at any time, via the Public Discussion page or by email to one of the LCRIC members. Communications will be kept confidential if requested.

Building Indigenous Inclusion in Canadian Astronomy in the Next Decade

The on-line webinar on “Building Indigenous inclusion in Canadian astronomy in the next decade” was held on November 10, 2021. The webinar featured 4 panelists: Rob Thacker (CASCA), Luc Simard (HAA-NRC), Kim Venn (ACURA), and Norm Murray (CITA). (The CITA Director Juna Kollmeier was unable to attend because of a conflict with a previously scheduled SDSS-V review.) The moderator was Hilding Neilson and Chris Wilson acted as an administrative chair. Questions for the panelists were prepared in advance by LCRIC members and the first two questions were shared with the panelists in advance of the webinar. Questions were also solicited from the CASCA membership using Slido, both in advance and during the webinar. Approximately 150 people attended the webinar. Following the panel, LCRIC invited the panelists to submit a written summary of key bullet points from the webinar discussion. CASCA Acting President Rob Thacker provided his thoughts on questions 1 and 2, a subset of which is quoted verbatim here.

For the benefit of members who were not able to attend, or who were able to attend but wish to review the discussion, we provide a description of the questions and answers here. Each panelist gave a combined response to Questions 1 and 2 at the beginning of the webinar; for these two questions, the CITA response was written by Juna Kollmeier and read by Norm Murray. To allow for more questions to be asked, the later questions were sometimes posed only to a subset of the panelists. Excepting the direct quotation for Questions 1 and 2, the following is a summary of panelists’ remarks written by Chris Wilson and reviewed by LCRIC.

Questions 1 and 2: In your personal opinion, what would Indigenous inclusion look like for your organization? How does your organization specifically benefit from ongoing [effects of] colonization?

Rob Thacker: In my own experience highlighting the importance of a personal commitment to inclusion, and ultimately respect, is perhaps the most impactful thing you can do – many other actions flow from that, not least of which is a true understanding of the impact of ‘gatekeeping’. That said, such a commitment is easily said or thought, but not easily done.

We can also learn better approaches to relating and interacting with others. Relational practice has moved from health care to general education (although it is taking time to be fully adopted therein) and presents many important approaches to engaging, listening, shared decision-making and accountability. As a process for building inclusion, especially with Indigenous communities, the fundamental point of the approach is to achieve solutions of benefit to all.

I also want to highlight that judgment without understanding, especially around Indigenous Knowledges, is disrespectful and damaging. I also acknowledge my past failures here. More recently I have come to learn that the verb emphasis of many Indigenous languages creates a profoundly different way of viewing the world, which has been generalized as a perspective of processes rather than objects. Because much of my public engagement as a scientist highlights science as a process of investigation, something beyond a collection of knowledge, I have found these perspectives highly valuable. There is clearly a lot of room for thought and discussion about how we do science.

While Indigenous inclusion is important, in the context of Indigenization it might be considered the minimum bar. If we measure change solely in terms of statistics we miss culture, and that is where the biggest changes are needed to truly address reconciliation, or ‘Reconciliation Indigenization’ as it has been called. Extending research and learning beyond Eurocentric thinking is needed to do this, but since universities are places of learning such expansion of boundaries should be a valued endeavour.

Lastly, it is important to consider how our field has inherently benefited from colonialism. The lens of colonialism tends to focus most obviously on land, as have many of our community discussions in astronomy, but “Big Astronomy” exists within the international scientific community. That has been made possible by education systems that centre western epistemology and thus inevitably contribute to Indigenous erasure. In Canada the Residential Schools system took that to the level of cultural genocide.

Juna Kollmeier (read by Norm Murray): What is important is to work to ensure that people are not excluded from any of our activities at CITA, such as training, workshops, and outreach. There are many routes to losing individuals from STEM training, both implicit and explicit. A particularly important factor is high poverty rates in Indigenous communities, with 40% of Indigenous children living in poverty. CITA regards the education of rural and poor children, specifically in adequate mathematical foundations, to be the largest barrier to Indigenous inclusion in theoretical astrophysics. CITA plans, in consultation with Indigenous scholars and leaders, to work on culturally sensitive, accessible activities at the entrance to the STEM pipeline to improve Indigenous inclusion in STEM careers. Regarding the second question, all publicly funded institutions benefit from the colonial legacy of the crown. CITA strives for a sustainable and just future as we collectively confront and heal from the atrocities of the past.

Kim Venn: ACURA takes decolonization and reconciliation extremely seriously. This is the most important thing in science and engineering right now. ACURA represents 20 universities with enormous resources and ACURA is working to collect resources and best practices to share with the community. ACURA’s goal is to be able to share this list of resources by the end of 2022. One example is the University of Manitoba Wawatay program for support for Indigenous students in science, which is really exemplary. At the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, there is an Indigenous STEAM effort, where A refers to areas like Art, Architecture, Agriculture etc. where Indigenous peoples have demonstrated innovation and success already, and bringing that into the science curriculum.

Luc Simard: It starts with recognizing that we need help. This very important point was made in the LRP2020 White Paper (“Indigenizing Canadian Astronomy”). It’s about creating spaces (in the workforce, the people; the sites) that can go beyond astronomy, for example, activities on the site of the observatory involving wildfire management, the protection and propagation of species that are important to Indigenous communities for food and medicine, for example. It can be as simple as having Indigenous schools coming and holding nature classes on the sites. Creating Indigenous and Western signs, Indigenous knowledge in outreach activities, and in the research that we do ourselves. We need to listen and learn from the elders of Indigenous communities to be considerate of the feelings, the interests, and the needs of Indigenous people. We are relying on the Indigenous communities to tell us what matters to them most and where we can start. One thing that I heard recently is that it is time go from Reconciliation to ReconciliAction. This is how we will build trust and understanding through long-term relationships.

In terms of the second question, the lands in Penticton and Victoria are what allow world class research in astronomy to take place. NRC-HAA is seeking to establish and maintain long-term relationships with the local Indigenous communities, to listen and learn with the full respect and care that these lands deserve. The Canadian astronomical community also benefits from our international partnerships that operate telescopes in Hawai`i and Chile and those places are also highly significant.

Question 3: What are the goals of your institution regarding indigenous inclusion for the next 5 years? How do you see these goals in relation to the Calls to Action of the TRC? What are your strategies? and How do you define success?

Rob Thacker: From CASCA’s perspective, we are prioritizing recommendation #1 in the LRP, on developing a set of guidelines for how we approach development of facilities and all the relationships around Indigenous lands and Indigenous communities. In terms of the bigger picture, as CASCA President, I have made the decision to establish a President’s Advisory Circle for CASCA. I have learned so much from being allowed to be part of circles with elders, and I felt providing this as a gift to the CASCA President is something that is very important to understanding these issues at the top level. We can’t silo Indigenous aspects into a single committee: understanding our relationships with Indigenous communities requires effort from all of us. CASCA is also working to improve and expand the Westar lectureship program. Finally, we need to come up with an implementation plan with timelines for various recommendations and activities.

Luc Simard: It’s been made very clear to us that trust must be earned through concrete actions. For example, we are discussing how restore the identity of the site in Victoria via W̱SÁNEĆ names and W̱SÁNEĆ teachings in public outreach activities. We had the honour to host elders a couple of weeks ago for discussions. The hope is that soon, as you walk around the site, you will see the Indigenous identity shining through, through these different actions. We are also looking at training opportunities for students and other members of the community; there is a great diversity of training opportunities.

Norm Murray: At CITA, we need to do more homework on talking with Indigenous groups, learning what they are looking for, what they are interested in. We know what our expertise is, we don’t know what their needs or interests are. We will be trying to reach out to people across Canada from Indigenous communities to establish relationships and start conversations, because CITA is a national organization.

Question 4: How does the concept of consent from Indigenous communities/Nations come into play with the interest of astronomers for facilities, instrumentation, etc.? Historically, how has your organization attempted to seek consent and/or partnerships for projects where appropriate?

Kim Venn: I’m addressing this in terms of ACURA, which currently has two large projects, the TMT and the SKA. The concept of consent will be different for different communities. It starts with conversations, although we have to recognize that too much conversation can be seen as harassment. Regarding TMT, we know that there is both strong opposition from Native Hawaiians, as well as some strong support from Native Hawaiians. Our formal position is that this conversation is still going on. If it continues to the point where the community says that there is no consensus, ACURA stands by its statement at the 2020 CASCA AGM back in May. With the U.S. decadal survey Astro2020 coming out last week, the U.S. is now having conversations about this as well. The TMT is calling for “community healing” and with the NSF involved, there is now a timeline for discussions with the federal government that can involve community healing. As a member of TMT, Canada has been asking for this and pushing for it within the TMT project for some time now. Native Hawaiians have invited the TMT Board members, community members, project office members to ho`oponopono, to participate in peace, and we are respecting that request and that process.

Luc Simard: Regarding SKA, we have contacted the host countries to find out more about the process that the project is following in Australia (where there is work on a land use agreement) and in South Africa (where there is an MOU). The realities are very different in both places. But it goes farther than that: local communities have an impact, say, for example, on the array configuration in Australia. It’s a relationship that has an impact through consultation and decision making. We’ve done our best to assess that the SKA meets the spirit of LRP2020 recommendation #1.

For a completely new facility, it is important to learn about the local context and the needs of the local community. Within Canada itself there is a diversity of solutions that have been put in place. Consent starts from a place of respect, building trust, to discussion of the guiding principles. For the SKA, the first thing they did was discuss guiding principles, and produced a document called “Standing Strong”, which will guide other future facilities that Australia may be involved in.

Question 5: From a historical perspective, how has your organization been inclusive of Indigenous peoples and have there been any failures by your organization to be inclusive?

Rob Thacker: CASCA was established in 1971 and there has been significant evolution. One historical example was development on Maunakea, where CASCA was involved in the development and initial discussions of the CFHT. Our understanding of the nature and impact of colonialism has evolved over the years (Maunakea is again an example). This is a challenging question to answer, there absolutely have been wrongs, such as the Residential Schools. We still are subject to the criticism that we are being reactive rather than proactive in how we approach inclusion.

Norm Murray: People don’t always live up to their ideals; sometimes they’re not even aware of problems with things they are involved in. We have limited time and bandwidth, it’s a question of how you want to spend your time and energy on the planet. My first step would be to talk to other astronomers of an Indigenous background, because they would know more about what has gone on. I personally can’t say with any confidence what we have or have not done well.

Question 6 (from the chat): why are there so few Indigenous faculty members?

Kim Venn: Astro2020 summarized it beautifully for the U.S.: “… racial and ethnic diversity among astronomy faculty remains abysmal”. We don’t have those statistics for Canada but we can look around us and see a similar situation. Poverty rates in our Indigenous communities are also abysmal. The history is horrifying the more we learn. It’s reflected not just in astronomy, but also in universities and throughout the educational system. I see 153 people on this call, which is a significant number of people who are interested and hopefully committed to changing this situation, to reaching out and doing something. This guides ACURA’s approach to sharing resources, because a lot of us don’t know how to start. A very simple thing would be to have a Canadian AISES (American Indigenous Science and Engineering Society) chapter at your university, which provides support for Indigenous students in science and engineering. We also need a protocol for reaching out to Indigenous communities so that we are not burdening them with our lack of knowledge.

Question 7: what training is available for people who want to start?

Kim Venn: The University of Alberta has an on-line Coursera class called “Indigenous Canada” that is easy to take and very informative.

Rob Thacker: A member of the audience asked a question about “how do we engage? You have to rely on things happening in an organic way. It is easier to start making connections through people who are already involved in projects with communities, allowing you to be introduced. And learning from Indigenous elders who are invited to the university for open and free discussion: we need two-eared hearing, in addition to two-eyed seeing.

(Summary by Chris Wilson, LCRIC chair, with written contributions from Rob Thacker to questions 1 and 2 and review by members of the LCRIC)

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