Strategic Translation

Strategic translation: pollution, data, and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge by Sarah Blacker

We look to ‘Water is a living thing’ as a case study. Here, two First Nations communities “chose to partially translate their knowledge into data because doing so enabled them to enter into dialogue with policy-makers — with data as the lingua franca - to participate in science, and to retain control over their own data.”

This is an act of protest against the settler colonial state. Data as a form of partial translation which serves as a boundary object

Science is not apolitical, nor measurement neutral.

  • ”The practices through which data is collected are informed by the social and political context where the science is being carried out as well as by the assumptions and positionality of the scientists themselves."
  • "Because government metrics of contamination are framed as objective and politically neutral (Hoover 2013), they are difficult to challenge, particularly for economically marginalized and racialized communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental contamination”
    • This is also not always true either (e.g. lobbying, strategic funding of specific outcomes in research, etc.)
    • tldr; Who is to say the government is objective?
    • e.g. ‘science muzzling’ (read: censorship) under the Harper government

McLachlan’s three-track method

  • used in a collaboration between the two First Nations communities and non-Indigenous scientists in order to produce a document that could be circulated in the form of data
  • Tracks
    1. Narrative: Articulates TK about environmental environmental contamination
    2. Numerical: Provides measurements of contamination levels using current industry standards
    3. Synthesis: combination of the above

Some argue that “local knowledge is altered when it is removed from ‘its embeddedness in a holistic cultural and political context’ so that it can be made comparable, classifiable, and commensurable”

[S]cientists look at very thin slices of stuff. They don’t look at the whole book, they look at one word on a page and try to define. Somebody’s got to put the book together. But if you can’t see the whole book, you can’t do it. That’s the trouble with scientists. Where the traditional knowledge is like you have the whole book. You may not be able to say exactly why, what causes this, what causes that. But you can sure see the changes.

Seems to mutual distrust between First Nations groups and government + industry

  1. First Nations groups don’t trust govt + industry as the data they collect is not holistic and doesn’t incorporate TK
  2. Government + industry doesn’t trust First Nations as they doubt their scientific abilities and incapability of producing ‘objective’ data

Did not end up working under Harper government, but First Nations communities were undeterred.

Open Access

From Kimberly Christen’s “Does Information Really Want to be Free?” and Salomé Viljoen’s “A Relational Theory of Data Governance”

Contests over access to knowledge arise because of the historical conditions that meant that indigenous people lost control over how and what knowledge was to be circulated

Data and information should only be common use after voluntary communication to others. This is not the case for the vast majority of traditional knowledge.

Public domain instead violates indigenous peoples’ rights by defining their collective works as “folklore” and excluding their protection via copyright system