Friday, September 20, 2013

Noted ethnoecologist visits SNRAS grad seminar

Nancy Turner, left, looks at leaf samples with Jan Dawe.
SNRAS graduate seminar students were excited to host a special guest Thursday. Nancy Turner, ethnoecologist from the University of Victoria, B.C., shared her thoughts on broader impacts with the group.

“It’s often the case that we don’t think far enough ahead what the impacts will be,” Turner said. Referring to a paper she wrote for Ecology and Society, Turner said it was a very personal article about growing up in Victoria and loving wild places. “Watching them transform hurt me personally but that wasn’t recognized,” she said. “The forest was cut down and turned into a housing development.”

When asked how to make invisible losses more visible, Turner said, “Listen to people instead of telling them what you are going to do. Start without having made decisions and work with people to make decisions. Talk with people at the beginning of an idea and make steps to understand the implications for people. Give people decision-making power.”

Another paper she wrote, “Blundering Intruders,” is about people trying to survive and intruders want to build mines or pipelines. “Then people direct all their energy into how to stop something that is going to wreck their lives. Money talks so much. Industry and government force improvements on communities. We learned that people feel devastated.”

Gaining trust and working together on environmental and community decisions revolves around friendships, Turner said. She recalled taking her children with her when getting to know new people. “My indigenous friends say be open. Connect at similar interests. My love of plants is an instant icebreaker with elders anywhere. We can start a conversation about berries. You’ll all find you own ways of connecting.” She suggested offering to give a talk at a school, attend meetings, feasts and events. “If you indicate an interest they will invite you,” she said.

When scientists enter a community and get to know the people, then draw out ideas, key themes and patterns, they are using grounded theory, Turner said. “You follow the patterns to create hypotheses. It’s a luxury to be able to take the time. Maybe we should change our educational system to give more time. It is slow and painstaking work to listen and be with people but in the long run it is satisfying to do that work.”

Saying that science is value based, Turner added that if the things people value are non-consumptive (the northern lights or trees) they will make less of an impact than people who value only what they can buy. “Some societies value relationships more than things.”

When a returned Peace Corps volunteer questioned the value of the work she did in the field, Turner said, “Don’t underestimate the value of your presence.”

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