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During the summer of 2021, Meghan Lindholm lived in her camper van in Wabasca, Alberta, so that she could engage in fieldwork. (Photo: submitted)

USask graduate student studies impact of industry on Indigenous food systems in northern Alberta

Meghan Lindholm is pursuing a master's degree in environmental anthropology in the College of Arts and Science


By Shannon Boklaschuk

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate student is studying how Indigenous people in northern Alberta utilize edible and medicinal plants, and how oil and forestry development in the area can impact people’s ability to harvest, use, or find culturally important species.

Meghan Lindholm, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental anthropology in USask’s College of Arts and Science, is engaging with members of the Bigstone Cree Nation through her research. As an environmental anthropology student, she studies not only how the environment shapes human culture and society, but also how humans shape the environment. Through her research, she has found that some resource companies are still not engaging “in proper and effective consultation” with individual trapline owners or Bigstone Cree Nation members about developing in their traditional territories.

“There are a good number of people that hunt and trap and gather from their land, and when you have unexpected logging happening, or well sites being erected, or other developments not being cleaned up, it affects people’s experiences on the land,” Lindholm said. “And not only that: it impacts animal movements, the sites of edible plants, and the contamination of both animals and plants is a real concern.”

Lindholm began her master’s degree at USask in September 2020, after previously completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta in environmental studies. Her graduate work is being supervised by Dr. Clint Westman (PhD), head of USask’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, and adjunct professor Dr. Janelle Baker (PhD). Lindholm said the reason she chose to enrol at USask was the opportunity to work with her supervisors.

“I’m lucky to be working with two really great professors who have extensive research with both Indigenous communities and ethnobotany and food systems,” she said.

A high-achieving student, Lindholm has received funding through the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP) to conduct her fieldwork. The NSTP supports projects that lie north of the southern limit of the discontinuous permafrost zone and the other seven circumpolar countries. She has also been awarded a USask Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides about $16,000 for one year to a full-time graduate student with a GPA of 80 per cent or higher to help further the student’s education and training.

“I’ve been really blessed with some financial opportunities since starting the program,” she said.

During the summer of 2021, Lindholm lived in her camper van in Wabasca, Alberta, so that she could engage in fieldwork. She spoke to people in the community and attended community events, and later conducted interviews. She hopes to conduct more interviews during the winter months via Zoom.

“Dr. Baker has some long-standing partnerships from doing research in the area, so I was able to connect with a few people she knew from the band office. They have been so great to work with, ask questions, and also helped to connect me with community members to interview about industry activity and plant use,” Lindholm said.

“Other community members I have reached out to through email or phone to see if they would be willing to participate. When people are engaged in interviews, I allow what they want to talk about be largely directed by them. Bigstone members know the issues of greatest concern, and I hope that through documenting their concerns I can translate it into something useful for the community in the future.”

Through the interviews Lindholm has conducted so far, “it’s apparent that logging and gas activity is a big concern for a lot of people who still hunt, trap, and gather from the land,” she said. She would be “thrilled” if her research could eventually impact policy-making in the area.

“However, realistically, it would be exciting to get this information into the media and bring it to people’s attention, as has been suggested by community members, and affect a bit of change in how logging and oil and gas companies interact with people before they start development on their land,” she said. “Next spring and summer I’d like to get more feedback from community members on what they would like to see happen.”

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