By Duncan Phillips, Vice President, Mitacs
“The Mitacs collaborative web-based mapping tool project is partially funded by Mitsubishi Foundation for the Americas, an IFIP corporate funder member. Please read more about this new and exciting partnership between Canada’s Indigenous and academic communities below.”
Canada has had a long and difficult relationship with Indigenous peoples, but is now at a turning point in this relationship and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are beginning to work together towards a shared future. Many Indigenous communities and organizations have been working with Canadian universities and researchers to try to address pressing problems in their communities, and as a university-based, Canadian not-for-profit research and training organization, Mitacs is committed to supporting this work and helping to advance reconciliation within the mandate of our organization.
As an organization focused on creating research networks, developing talent, and increasing innovation, Mitacs sees an opportunity to further the work being done towards addressing the needs and goals of Indigenous communities, both through our programs and through new, targeted initiatives. Therefore in 2016 we launched a pilot initiative to engage Indigenous communities across Canada with Canadian universities. This initiative developed new models of collaborative research by combining traditional knowledge and Indigenous research methods with university-based research through a limited series of pilot projects, as well as allowing Mitacs to reach Indigenous communities outside our established network, and develop trusted and meaningful relationships with these communities that further contribute to their goals and priorities.
Developing, funding, and initiating the pilot provided important lessons, reinforcing the importance of youth engagement and capacity building and recognizing Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. Approximately one million dollars in funding to support these projects was resourced from non-government sources and funding bodies.
One pilot project, which was jointly funded by the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas and the British Columbia Real Estate Foundation, brought together community members from the Wabun Tribal Council, the Saulteau First Nations, the Firelight Group, and the University of British Columbia to co-develop a web-based collaborative mapping tool, informally called the Referrals Management Tool (RMT), that is providing the necessary tools for:
Community members to volunteer and selectively share, through mobile apps, information pertaining to their contemporary use of the land;
Community technicians to facilitate swift and effective review and decision-making by comparing how referred projects impact both traditional and contemporary land uses; and
Industry to standardize their referral submission process and track the review of their referrals within the community’s workflow.
This project is turning what was previously a difficult, inaccurate and burdensome administrative process that put First Nations interest at peril, into an automated, efficient process that can not only ensure that the First Nation’s interests are protected and their concerns taken into account, but can potentially become a revenue generating service.
While Mitacs programing is open to Indigenous graduate students and postdocs, as well as Indigenous host companies and not-for-profit organizations, we continue to explore new ways to increase Indigenous participation in our programs, and to support Indigenous research and researchers across the country, in order to:
Facilitate the development of innovative projects on topics that are self-determined by the Indigenous participants;
Help provide Indigenous youth and students with work-integrated learning experiences as well as professional skills training to prepare them for entry into the labour market;
Help Indigenous companies and innovators build partnerships with non-Indigenous companies and global economies; and
Help Indigenous companies grow by addressing their R&D needs.