Tuesday, 1 September 2020

The Struggle of Working from Home in a Pandemic

By Ali Nychuk, 1st year MDP student

Hi, it’s Ali again! First, I want to take a moment to thank my Field Placement host First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (FNHSSM) for the lovely experience and an opportunity to continue our work on the Indigenous-Specific Anti-Racism program for Physicians and Health Care providers.   When I thought I was going to New Zealand, I specifically requested that placement was not solely a “desk job”, in reflection there is such irony not only was my placement a desk job it was in the comforts of my own home. Not to mention I was extremely grateful to even have a desk job during the pandemic.


Completing a Field Placement during a pandemic has required me to use my skill set in unprecedented ways. An excellent example of this was the use of my biomechanics knowledge to create my own DIY ergonomic office-space. It even called on my creativity as I had to improvise using various textbooks to create a laptop stand. 


I wish I had an epiphany moment that caused me to become super fit or caused me to become an excellent baker, but it didn’t. However, it caused me to reflect and be extremely grateful. I am grateful to be able to work, to have safety, to have technology to communicate with my loved ones, colleagues, and classmates. How wonderful it will be to hug all of them again! It is my hope that this appreciation continues to permeate into other seasons.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Research, COVID, and Balance

By Mackenzie Roop. 1st year MDP student


As my field placements came to a close, I reflected on how much I expanded my goals and career interests. Throughout this year I had the opportunity to hone my interests towards impact assessment and renewable energy, and it was amazing to be able to gain deeper insight and experience in these areas through my field placements.

Thinking critically about the jurisdictional distinctions between Canada and Australia in the context of Indigenous participation in the energy sector has been eye-opening. I learned that the Australian government has its own distinct set of circumstances despite having a similar history.

My work with the Australian National University was in response to a request to investigate the Canadian context due to the comparable opportunity for Indigenous involvement and ownership in the Canadian energy sector. What I learned was that there are many different types and levels of participation, as government incentives and programs range provincially and federally. In Canada, federal support for Indigenous participation is built largely through a mesh of policies, laws, and agreements. Each Indigenous group has a unique set of goals, capacities and relationship agreements. Thus, while examining opportunity from a jurisdictional lens was helpful to understand the context of federal law in the energy sector, growing opportunity for Indigenous participation is and should continue to be determined by Indigenous groups themselves, led by community values and aspirations. 


My work for the Public Interest Law Centre increased my skill set in qualitative research and deepened my understanding of First Nation participation in the federal Impact Assessment Act (IAA) 2019. I produced a report that analyzed various First Nations’ recommendations and concerns of the previous IA, and developed a framework which uncovered these recommendations’ applicability to the IAA 2019. This report hopes to serve PILC and its clients in future deliberations of First Nation rights and opportunity during the impact assessment process.


Researching remotely as a non-Indigenous person during COVID-19 is not a light responsibility. While my work was in response to requests, I recognize that my work reflects my own positioning, produced from a non-Indigenous lens in a largely western-academic framework. Non-Indigenous researchers in particular must be careful when engaging in Indigenous related research, especially in times of COVID-19 where circumstances for capacity and accessibility are changing. My experience working remotely was thus difficult as it lacked a necessary tenet of basic Indigenous research methodology: building relationships and accountability with Indigenous groups that the research may represent. I look forward to building my field placement experience and knowledge gained into future projects and relationships.


In my previous blogpost, I reflected on the difficulties of working from home amongst the pandemic. This challenge was an important part of my learning process and personal management. I learned that balance is an essential component of producing good work, and that achieving this is a long term process. As COVID continues to influence the ways of the world, the lessons I have learned throughout my placement under COVID will also grow and adapt.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

The Next Step

By Racheal Kalaba, 2nd year MDP student

Having finished my placement with the Canadian Red Cross, submitted my final paper and reflection, I took the time to reflect on what is next as an MDP graduate of 2020.  Just a recap, The Canadian Red Cross Mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity in Canada and around the world. The seven principles of the Canadian Red Cross are Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality.

My overall experience for the placement is mixed, initially when I wanted to do the placement, the aim was to gain more understanding of how to do development differently, coming from Zambia and always working with diverse organizations, I was eager to work in the emergency sector. I have learned and re-learned so much, I realize that many development organizations need a paradigm shift to include Indigenous ways of learning and perspectives. Indigenous and community-led research is critical in doing the ‘development’ work differently. I have also learned to position myself in situations that even if I am doing the MDP program, I cannot speak for and on behalf of Indigenous people in Canada, but instead understand how policies can be best aligned to support Indigenous people in Canada. It is important to be aware of the situations we may find ourselves as MDPers and always note that sustainable development is done with communities and not for them.

Key learnings were that we need to be more aware when we read the information on social media, academic writings, etc., always ask; from whose lens was it written? Another concept is the importance of identifying allies in workplaces and academic spaces, as this is critical for long term relationship building and support.

I would say the ubuntu concept of “I am because you are, you are because I am.” This is an African concept that talks about relationships and the community. After my course, I believe that it resonates well with the Indigenous way of being and doing. I further reflect the Ubuntu concept with the four Rs: Relationship, Reciprocity, Respect, and Reflectivity.  In reflecting on how I have applied my skills from class to placement, work, and life; I note that this has been in various ways. The key takeaways are mostly research and analytical skills, project planning and management, statistical analysis, business planning, financial projection and analysis, and Indigenous worldviews. I have used these skills in my placement with Red Cross Canada in Manitoba.  I am grateful for having learned so much from my professors, cohort, and mentors and excited for the next journey that awaits.

Racheal Kalaba

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Indigenous Entrepreneurship and the Social Enterprise Movement

By  Alexander Keone Kapuni Oldroyd, 1st year MDP student
During my undergrad at Brigham Young University I became enamored with the social innovation movement that has found its way into business school curricula the world over. I was especially taken with social enterprise models. In my mind, this was the future, the next iteration of capitalism that was more inclusive, more sustainable, more focused on community wellbeing. Just think of the progress we could make by applying commercial strategies (and by extension private capital) to social problems, by breaking down the silos of government, the social sector, and the private sector! I left BYU feeling like this was new frontier, and I resolved to make my mark at the intersection of social innovation and Indigenous development.
Fast forward a few years to my time in the MDP program. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with many incredible Indigenous entrepreneurs and innovators here in Winnipeg and across the country. My work with Carol Anne Hilton and the Indigenomics Institute in particular has brought me into contact with the likes of Jeff Ward of Animikii Indigenous Technology, Ashoka Fellow Jeff Cyr of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, and Jenn Harper of Cheekbone Beauty. As part of my field placement this summer, I’m in the process of connecting with another slate of incredible Indigenous entrepreneurs for the 2020 Indigenomics 10 to Watch List.
As I’ve talked with these entrepreneurs about their work, I’ve noticed certain patterns and characteristics about how they do business that is unique from traditional forms of entrepreneurship. In academic terms, I would call it a uniquely Indigenous entrepreneurial paradigm. What follows are a few of my key takeaways. In general, these Indigenous entrepreneurs:
             Build community as the core of their business models, not just by providing employment but also meeting other community needs.
             Use their businesses to support non-business-related community programs such as youth education.
             Maximize every resource available, minimize waste, and behave sustainably.
             Balance at least the bottom lines of profit, social impact, environmental impact, and community culture.
             Overcome market failures by striving to reach all members of the community, not just the most profitable segments.
             Incorporate values and worldview into every aspect of the business.
             Are willing to work with other organizations and businesses to increase community impact even when it means giving up some competitive advantages.
             Are incredibly resilient and able to overcome multiple complex challenges and barriers to success while drawing on the unique strengths of their communities.
Most of these aren’t surprising. I’ve been around Indigenous businesses long enough to know how committed Indigenous entrepreneurs are to their communities, and entrepreneurship has long been thought of as essential for community economic development. What was surprising, however, was just how much these quintessentially Indigenous ways of doing business mirror the social enterprise frameworks that are becoming increasingly mainstream (to much acclaim). And it was surprising because, for the most part, the language and frameworks of contemporary social innovation thinking are not common in many Indigenous contexts. Which is to say that the way of doing business expressed by these entrepreneurs (and Indigenous entrepreneurs across the country) doesn’t come from any new trends in business thinking or social innovation methodology, but from the worldviews of Indigenous communities that have existed on this land since time immemorial. 
Jeff Ward on Indigenous Innovation at TEDX
Jeff Ward put it best when he said that “Innovation is typically thought of as using new ideas to make things better. And while we certainly have new challenges and opportunities, we have to understand that Indigenous Peoples have been innovating on these lands for millennia... As the original inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs on these lands, Indigenous Peoples have thrived here, sustainably, and we’ve never stopped innovating.”
What we’re seeing is the rest of the world catching up to how Indigenous peoples have been doing business for centuries. As the social innovation movement continues to popularize the next iteration of capitalism, we would all do well to learn from what Indigenous entrepreneurs have known for centuries.  

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Thinking About Indigenous Food Security and Research During COVID-19

By Taylor Wilson, 2nd year MDP student

In my previous blogpost regarding my field placement, I shared that I chose to re-adjust my placement plan and do something different. Some other students did the same as I did while others chose to continue their plans while adjusting to COVID-19 rules. Like I had previously mentioned I had initially planned to work in my home community of Fisher River Cree Nation. I was going to create a food guide. This guide was to map our food system and provide information on how to eat nutritionally and traditionally in ways that are accessible, affordable, and easy. I had hoped it could be a guide to revitalizing Fisher River’s unique food culture as they are a Cree community living amongst a sea of Anishinaabe communities. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Corn growing m my yard in Fisher River
There were several reasons why I chose to not do my initial plan during the pandemic. One of the larger ones was that my community chose to close its borders to nearly everyone except for on-reserve members, which I found to be a valid choice. The other major reason I chose not to do my placement there during the pandemic was because of the topic. I was looking at food sovereignty and food security and I didn’t think it was fair or right that I, even as a community member, go to Fisher River during a time of uncertainty and do research about the food system.

If there is anything that MDP has taught me over my two years in the program, it’s the importance of doing research the right way. Fisher River is fortunate enough to be a thriving Indigenous community with capable and amazing community members, but it doesn’t exempt them from the myriad of issues surrounding Indigenous communities and the struggle for food sovereignty and security. Who was I to come into the community, someone who hadn’t lived on-reserve for nearly 10 years, and begin to question the food system during a time like this? Or ask questions about how people access and afford their food during what could arguably be called an economic crisis? Where access to affordable foods might be difficult. Not only that, commercial fishing, a huge source of income and food in the community, was halted across Manitoba. As soon as I realized these things, I called it off. I spoke with Shailesh and voiced my concerns, and thankfully (as much as we both would like to do this project), he agreed that this was not the right time.

Doing research on/in/with Indigenous communities during times like these means that as a researcher, even an Indigenous one, we need to think about the consequences, impacts, and realities of what our research does. Honestly, even without the pandemic, we need to consider these things. Even with our community partners being open, willing, and excited to work on this project, we need to understand and consider the impacts any research we do. I encourage other researchers, students, organizations who want to do research with Indigenous communities to think about what this pandemic is doing to Indigenous communities, and consider “is this the right time to be doing research”?
I look forward to working on this project in the future and being back home on the land. For now, I will continue to do work and learn about what research is and needs to be.
Yours, Taylor 

My yard in Fisher River

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Meaningful Public Participation in Hydroelectric Development

By Kate Robb, 2nd year MDP student

When thinking about the impacts of megadevelopments such as the Churchill River Diversion (CRD) in northern Manitoba, it is important to consider if and how those who experience the impacts on a day to day basis participated in or contributed to the development process. During my field placement with PILC, I learned about the value of meaningful public participation in the development of hydro projects, and the issues that can arise when participation is lacking.  
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAA) defines meaningful public participation as a process that ensures that the needs of those who are most impacted are prioritized, while also ensuring that all interested members of the public have the opportunity to participate. It ensures that the public has access to the information they need to take part in an informed way, and their perspectives inform and influence decisions. In the context of hydro projects in northern Manitoba, it is important to consider that the public who are most impacted consists primarily of First Nations communities. With this in mind, when assessing whether or not meaningful public participation has occurred, it is necessary not to focus solely on western-centred guidelines.
My project for PILC involved reviewing historic documents related to the CRD and associated Augmented Flow Program (AFP), and assessing whether or not the standards for meaningful public participation processes were met in each study. As the IAA guidelines are western-centred, and therefore not representative of the cultures and worldviews of the First Nations who are impacted by the CRD and AFP, I developed a framework to assess the extent of meaningful participation using guidance from Indigenous research methodologies. This was a great opportunity to put what I’ve learned so far in my MDP courses in to practice.
It was not surprising that none of the studies I reviewed met the criteria for meaningful public participation with the impacted First Nations. These communities have been expressing the severity of the impacts of the CRD and AFP on their lives for several decades, and Manitoba Hydro and the province have yet to adequately acknowledge their voices and mitigate the historic and ongoing impacts of hydroelectric development in northern Manitoba.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to the important work that PILC is doing on issues related to the First Nations who are impacted by hydro development in northern Manitoba. Even with the challenges created by the pandemic and adapting to working remotely, it was a valuable learning experience and I am looking forward to working on similar projects in the future!

Friday, 21 August 2020

It has been 3 months already? My Canadian Field Placement

By Ada Chukwudozie, 1st year MDP student

My placement officially comes to an end soon and it has been quite the journey. While the beginning started off bumpy due to the global pandemic, things really got going once I joined the Kishaadigeh project. Over the course of three months, I have come to learn about community-driven health research, engaging in comprehensive dialogue and most especially, the importance of self-determination. While COVID prevented me from actually interacting with community members on ground or see the research being done in these communities first-hand, I had the opportunity to interview tons of researchers, both academic and community researchers, and get an idea of what self-determination really means to Indigenous people and what it is that is being fought for through the work they are doing, and the work I was fortunate enough to have contributed to during my placement. 

Finding that work-life balance is something that was key in ensuring I had a successful placement year.  I cannot stress enough how much creating personal time for yourself is important for a successful field placement.

I struggled with this in the beginning and to help me gain a sense of inner peace and mental clarity, I finally carved some personal time for me and joined an online yoga class, which helped immensely. I also went on walks and safely hung out with some of my friends to gain a sense of normalcy during this period. The routine and balance I came to achieve helped ensure that I had a successful placement and I can’t believe it’s been three months already!