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Building Community-Based Research Capacity and Action towards Decolonization

Crystal Tremblay (PhD) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Academic Specialist in Community-Engaged Research at University of Victoria (UVic). Since 2018, she has been the co-chair of the Strategic Planning committee and board member for Community-Based Research Canada (CBR Canada). This interview explores how the Salish Sea Hub builds community-university partnerships that contribute to decolonization and local action towards the UN SDGs.

What is the Salish Sea Hub?

The Salish Sea Hub builds capacity in community-based research at UVic and in the local communities. It is one of 13 hubs in the world initiated by the international network Knowledge for Change (K4C), an initiative of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, co-led by Drs Budd Hall (UVic) and Rajesh Tandon (Society for Participatory Research in Asia). The K4C hubs facilitate community and university knowledge co-creation for action addressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). The Salish Sea Hub has a particular focus on building community-based research capacity and action towards decolonization, racial and gender equality, and climate action. The hub launched a new Community-Based Participatory Research course at the University of Victoria this fall, partnering with five community organizations where students and community partners co-design and facilitate projects on a range of topics such as addressing systemic racism, developing online resources for the trans and non-binary community, and assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on Elders/seniors in the region.

The Salish Sea Hub was created through relationships that has already been established between the University of Victoria, the Victoria Foundation and Victoria Native Friendship Centre, the three co-founders of the hub. My colleagues and I attended the UNESCO Mentor Training Program (MTP) along with several of our community partners to become certified K4C mentors. Together we co-developed curriculum for a special topics course in Geography, “Community-Based Participatory Research: local action for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” This course is offered to fourth-year Geography students as well as our community partners, who participate in the weekly on-line courses. We wanted to ensure a rich co-learning environment aimed at building strong relationships with positive on the ground impacts. The course is co-led by Ken Josephson, with the Department of Geography Map Shop and 5 other certified K4C mentors who co-instruct along with their community partners. We are also very fortunate to have an Elders advisory, who also participate in the course and provide guidance to the project teams.

Above Photo 2018: The partners and mentors of the Salish Sea Hub including the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, the Victoria Foundation and the University of Victoria. Taken on the traditional territories of the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples

Can you describe some of your projects, especially related to decolonization?

We worked with the Intercultural Association to help conduct a survey on systemic racism in Greater Victoria, which gathered over 1,000 responses. There was an identified need to better understand how COVID-19 has been exacerbating incidents of racism, and to better understand how and where people are experiencing racism. The UVic students involved in this partnership did some survey analysis and a new cohort of students will pick up where they left off in the new semester. A key feature of this work is building a relationship with our community partners. Community-based research takes time and some projects will take several years.

Another research project explored the impact of COVID-19 on Elders and seniors served by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. The Centre has over 100 programs serving Indigenous families, children, youth, and Elders. When COVID-19 hit, they pivoted quickly to respond in innovative and effective ways, including new programs such as the Hampers Program, Elders Phone Chain and Tech Time. We had an opportunity through the UVic COVID-19 Recovery Grant for this research supporting participant honorariums and an Elders Advisory group, which were instrumental in leading the design and implementation of the survey questionnaire. Students conducted phone interviews with Elders, learning about the impacts of COVID-19 in relation to their emotional, physical, spiritual and mental well-being and in which ways the VNFC might better support Elders/seniors during this time.

How can community-based research contribute to decolonization?

As a faculty member, I need to reflect on my privilege and space that I occupy. How can I create a space that is enabling multiple perspectives to be considered? I intentionally try to recognize, celebrate, learn from, and value ways of knowing that are beyond Western academia. The action-oriented part is also important here – getting outside the classroom and contributing to positive social change. A lot of that has to do with listening to our partners. I think you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is messy, takes a lot of time, and it is built on relationships and trust.

I believe the spirit of community-based research is to decolonize. Our goal in community-based research is to democratize knowledge and celebrate/learn many ways of being in the world. Traditional, academic research leans towards imperial and colonial ways of knowing, which has often been extractive and harmful. Acknowledging that rich and varied knowledge exists in the community is a start to pursuing a different approach.

Other mechanisms we use for pursing decolonization in our community partnerships are to provide funding opportunities to support community partners, work closely with community partners to ensure the research is relevant, and have clear communication and expectations between students and partners. We also make time to hear how our community partners think the partnership is going and what can we change. We are lucky to have support at UVic for this work and for people like Ken Josephson, from the Map Shop, Catherine Krull, Chair of the Executive Committee on Community Engagement and Rhianna Nagel, our Community-Engaged Learning Coordinator, to name a few, who think a lot about how to enable and support mutually-beneficial and reciprocal partnerships that are long-lasting.

The UNESCO Chair in CBR recently published “Open Science Beyond Open Access: For and with communities, A step towards the decolonization of knowledge”, which is one of several knowledge products that can be found on the UNESCO Chair open source repository housed at UVic. The recommendations in this report call for greater contribution of and value for citizen science and participatory action research towards science production. To work towards science that is truly open we must include “a plurality of ways of knowing, including those of Indigenous cultures, Global South cultures, and other excluded, marginalized groups in the Global North.”

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