By Casey Nicholls, Volunteer Writer
The scientific method was created so that knowledge could be gained through observations by repeated testing. Due to the strict adherence to this method, scientific research tends to be categorized through a fairly narrow lens which keeps certain voices from being heard. Community-based knowledge and Indigenous worldviews have often been excluded from research due to their perceived incompatibility with science which can be a deterrence for communities to conduct their own research.
The inclusion of narratives and approaches that are not broadly recognized as scientific can spark the interest of communities to take the lead and develop their own research. Alana Wilcox, a PhD candidate in the Department of Integrative Biologyat the University of Guelph, has organized a workshop called Frame/Shift that aims to assist in the reconceptualization of scientific research. She wants to challenge the perceived hierarchies between science and art, and between scientific knowledge and community-based knowledge. Frame/Shift amalgamates scientific and artistic approaches in a creative and effective way so that marginalized voices have a stronger platform to address the topics that are important to them. Alana sees Frame/Shift as a means to encourage Indigenous communities to conduct their own scientific research about concepts and processes that are meaningful to them.
The Frame/Shift workshop was put together by Alana to introduce Indigenous youth and their communities to a creative research approach that acknowledges community-based knowledge, and incorporates visual research and storytelling. She has been working with the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO) and Toronto and York Region Metis Council (TYRMC) for the pilot workshop and youth from the MNO TYRMC have been invited to participate.
The workshop will strengthen the participants’ research and analytical skills, teach them how to communicate science effectively in written form, and help them to conduct their own research using a method that emphasizes photo stories. Once the workshop is complete, there will be a showcase of the participants’ visual storylines that will be open to their families and the broader public.
The workshop will begin with educating the participants on the basics of ecology, biodiversity and adaptation, and how urbanization applies to these topics. Some of the questions the participants will be addressing are: What is biodiversity? What is urban ecology? How does urbanization happen? How does urbanization change the environment and its biodiversity? How do species respond and adapt to the habitat fragmentation and loss brought on by urbanization?
Alongside the focus on the interactions between urbanization and ecology, Frame/Shift seeks to broaden the participants’ understanding of what scientific research can look like. The workshop gives them the freedom to research local ecology and biodiversity and then relate it back to their experiences and that of their communities. The approach taken by Frame/Shift incorporates visual research and storytelling. Alana has partnered with Laurence Butet-Roch, a Toronto-based freelance photographer and writer, who will guide the participants through visual composition and the creation of visual storylines. The youth will learn from Butet-Roch how they can effectively use photography to convey narratives. Once the participants have chosen their personal research topics, they will go out into the urban landscape to take photos that relate to their research which allow it to come to life as a visual story. The photographs will be a center-point of the entire research experience and the research showcase.
The workshop is going on at the end of July, and the gallery exhibition is happening from August 9-11. It is open to the public for free from 12-5pm on Saturday the 10thand Sunday the 11th. On the evening of August 9th, a reception will be held from 7-10pm to commence the showcase. The reception and gallery exhibition are both being held at Margin of Eras Gallery (1684 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario).
Alana hopes that Frame/Shift will continue to expand beyond this single workshop. She would like to organize future workshops for both urban and rural centres so that diverse research emerges that is based on the local ecological processes and issues that are important to Indigenous communities.