Photo: I was out with a group of 7–9 year olds at an urban park in Toronto, in 2019, photographing a mute swan, an invasive species for Toronto. They had brought, or in some cases were lent, cameras, and they were taking pictures of what they found interesting or exciting on our walk. (Photo copyright Tyler J. Bateman).
The social relations that enable us to care for nature and land
I am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. I received a 4-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship and a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship - Master's as funding for my research.
The overall aim of my scholarly work is to contribute to our understanding of the intersections between decolonization, environmental-friendliness, mental health, and social justice. I draw on Julian Agyeman's concept of "just-sustainability" and add to it an observation that frequently in social justice and environmental movement work, people become burned out. I emphasize how mental health and pleasure can be part of just-sustainability, a move also embraced by scholar-activists such as adrienne maree brown and Kate Soper. Decolonization, especially in those places where settler-colonialism is still in place, is critical as a basis from which to understand Indigenous peoples' rights and sovereignty, and to restore "Indigenous land and life" (as Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang have defined decolonization). I draw on the concepts of the "cultural interface" (from Torres Strait Islander scholar Martin Nakata) and Two-Eyed Seeing (shared by Elder Albert Marshall and several Indigenous scholars) as a basis from which to think about how settlers and Indigenous peoples can come together into productive action for decolonization, environmental-friendliness, mental health, and social justice. These research aims are the basis for a not-for-profit research organization I created called the Cultural Interface Institute. The name of the institute comes from Martin Nakata's concept of the cultural interface, and Dr. Nakata and I maintain a dialogue about the organization and its aims.
Nature and Land
The concepts of nature, land, and environment have been defined in many ways. Indigenous scholars have argued that “land” is the most appropriate term of the three, particularly when writing about North America, or Turtle Island, since it more readily calls to mind the struggles over land that have taken place (Tuck, McKenzie, and McCoy 2014). In this definition, land is meant to refer to all creatures and beings on the land—animals, plants, fungi, micro-organisms, rivers, lakes, rocks, the air, and also the unseen beings that are part of Indigenous cosmologies (along with other beings on the land) (Simpson 2017; TallBear 2017; Tuck et al. 2014). As a European-descended settler often communicating with other settlers more familiar with "nature" as a term, I'm going to use both terms here, but want to explain why I'm using both. But I agree about the merits of using "land".
References Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. 2017. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
TallBear, Kim. 2017. “Beyond the Life/Not-Life Binary: A Feminist-Indigenous Reading of Cryopreservation, Interspecies Thinking, and the New Materialisms.” Pp. 179–202 in Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World, edited by J. Radin and E. Kowal. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Tuck, Eve, Marcia McKenzie, and Kate McCoy. 2014. “Land Education: Indigenous, Post-Colonial, and Decolonizing Perspectives on Place and Environmental Education Research.” Environmental Education Research 20(1):1–23. doi: 10.1080/13504622.2013.877708.
I am from Edmonton, Alberta (Treaty 6 Territory), and growing up, I spent a lot of time at Lac St. Anne (on the traditional territory of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation) and the Edmonton Public Library (thanks to my mother for many trips to the latter!). I also grew up on the border of Whitemud Creek Ravine in Edmonton, and that urban forest was an important part of my upbringing. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, where I became a Research Assistant under Scott Nielsen who runs the Applied Conservation Ecology Lab at the University of Alberta Department of Renewable Resources. With Scott and other professors and students, my knowledge of the natural history and ecology of Alberta expanded greatly. I shifted from ecology into environmental sociology after several realizations, one of which was seeing a "management implications" section at the end of most of the ecology papers I was reading, which said something to the effect of: "human impacts are greatly affecting the biological organisms we observed in this study, and we should be looking into the social dimensions of conservation more often." I wondered what it would look like if the "management implications" was the first section, not the last, of the paper, and what it would look like if most of the study was engaged in understanding human social systems and how they could be shifted to being more environmentally-friendly. I also noticed that most of the biologists I was around were politically active in advocating for environmental issues, and often social justice as well, and I wondered about the link between connecting with nature and becoming politically active about environmental issues. My shift to social sciences was also partly a result of attending the first North American Society for Conservation Biology conference in 2012 where Michael Soulé, one of the founders of the discipline, emphatically called for more young professionals to work on interdisciplinary teams—including with social scientists—to solve environmental issues. I then met Emily Huddart Kennedy, an environmental sociologist, who guided me as I transitioned into sociology. I am now based in Toronto, on unceded territory that is traditionally the home of several Indigenous groups, including nations of the Wendat Confederacy, Anishinaabe Confederacy, and Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I have been fortunate to meet Indigenous teachers from several of those groups, who have taught me important lessons about being in right relations. At the University of Toronto, I work with Josée Johnston, Ellen Berrey, John Hannigan and Zaheer Baber.