Day 3 – Towards Indigenous Environmental Sciences

For Keynote Talk abstracts for Day 3 please see here

“Science and Settler Colonialism”

Simon Naylor, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow

This paper examines the establishment of physical observatories across the British Empire and in particular in Britain’s settler colonies, in places as far apart as Tasmania, St Helena, Canada, India and South Africa. These observatories were usually established to advance a range of scientific pursuits, including astronomy, geomagnetism, geodesy and meteorology. They were meant to support colonialism and trade, by helping with land surveys and mapping projects, checking instruments and setting chronometers, setting standards of weight and measure, and advising on issues of climate and health. They were also judged to be important centres for the dissemination of European civilisation and sites of pedagogy. This paper will consider the activities of these so-called ‘colonial observatories’ over the course of the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the Toronto observatory. This observatory acted as an important centre for a network of other observatories across the country, including weather stations in local schools. It played an important role in the establishment of the Meteorological Service of Canada. It was also the starting point for Henry Lefroy’s physical survey of the Canadian northwest.


“’You have to be careful when you give others the power to define these things’: Research, Indigenous knowledge, and the limits to knowing”

Nicole Latulippe (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto) is from the North Bay area, land of the Nipissing and Algonquin peoples, Robinson-Huron Treaty territory. She is completing doctoral research with Nipissing First Nation on the relationship between fisheries knowledge and governance systems on Lake Nipissing.

Within dominant policy frameworks, traditional ecological knowledge is a body of knowledge to be archived, used to fill knowledge gaps, and divorced from Indigenous peoples’ self-determining authority. Attempts by non-Indigenous interests to map or model Indigenous knowledge or integrate different knowledge systems on unequal terms is shown to accelerate epistemic oppression. As an alternate strategy, in this talk I consider the productive friction (Anna Tsing; Sarah Hunt) that emerges when we stay implicated (Sarah Ahmed) in the limits to what we can know given our social locations, teachers, and motivations (Wendy Geniusz; Margaret Kovach; Audra Simpson). Thinking with Indigenous scholarship, this talk draws on my doctoral research with Nipissing First Nation. I link limits to knowing with research methodology, fisheries management, and what I have learned about Nipissing peoples’ enduring harvesting practices, knowledge traditions, and decision-making structures.


“Colonial Meteorological networks: Collecting cyclones and understanding the Monsoon, Indian and Australian teleconnections in the nineteenth century”

Vinita Damodaran, South Asian History
Director, Centre for World Environmental History

As extreme events increase, the predictability of these events becomes more important. At the same time there is a creeping uncertainty. Thus, improving the historical weather and climate database will provide a platform with which to address key concerns in climate change. However, often the scope of historical data available to refine these climate anomalies is underestimated and large amounts remain untapped; but with concerted data rescue activities this situation can be dramatically improved, both back through time and wider in space. This paper examines the current debate on vulnerability in the Indian Ocean region and understandings of it in the context of existing scientific networks. It makes the case that colonial meteorological understandings allowed for the conception of a global climate system to emerge and for an understanding and mapping of events related to this on a global scale. This was made possible through the colonial networks of empire.