Brenda Parlee was born and grew up in northern Ontario. The landscape and political economy of this provincial-north significantly influenced her knowledge and interpretation of the social, economic and environmental issues of critical importance for research and teaching. She has a B.A. from the University of Guelph (1995), and an M.E.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo (1998). She went on to receive her PhD from the University of Manitoba in Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) in 2005. She is currently Associate Professor and a Canada Research Chair in the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. She has worked in northern Canada for over 20 years on a range of collaborative and community-based research projects on different aspects of variability and change in northern communities and ecosystems. She is currently Principal Investigator of TRACKING CHANGE... - a collaborative research initiative focused on the role of local and traditional knowledge in the sustainable governance of the Mackenzie River Basin, the lower Amazon and the lower Mekong river basins. For more information see: trackingchange.ca
Brenda Parlee is an interdisciplinary scholar who has carried worked for many years on different aspects of community-based resource management. While at the University of Waterloo (Master’s in Environmental Studies, ‘98), Parlee developed a community-based monitoring system with a First Nations community based on traditional knowledge that has gone on to generate significant socio-economic data about changes in community well-being. The system of monitoring and the database, is led and hosted by Łutsël K’é First Nation. It is among the longest-lived examples of community-led socio-economic monitoring in Canada and has generated over 15 years of qualitative and quantitative “data”; in addition to informing local level policy and management, the dataset is useful to outsiders seeking to understand more about Indigenous northern communities and how they are affected by large scale resource development (i.e., diamond mining). In the late nineties, community-based monitoring was a forward-thinking approach – it has now become a popular approach and idea in the social sciences and the natural sciences alike. Brenda went on to study at the University of Manitoba with Distinguished Professor Dr. Fikret Berkes for her PhD (Natural Resource and Environmental Management, ‘05). Dr. Berkes is an applied ecologist with an interest in community-based resource management. Her dissertation focused more deeply on the relationship between Indigenous knowledge and practices and community-based monitoring. She explored the gendered nature of knowledge, working with both Gwich’in women from the community of Fort McPherson (who have a well developed knowledge about plants) and hunters from Łutsël K’é First Nation whose knowledge about caribou populations which is well recognized in a variety of resource management contexts in northern Canada.
The collaboration with Łutsël K’é First Nation led to a variety of other research collaborations in the north including a multi year, multi community project on the impacts and responses of northern communities to changes in the health, population and distribution of barren ground caribou. This work also highlighted the important role that community knowledge –or traditional knowledge – can play in the monitoring and management of both social and ecological change. In some ways this community knowledge is the same but better than more technical and expert driven strategies of data collection. In the case of caribou for example, communities, such as have been observing animals in the same places, using the same methods, using the same indicators for hundreds of years. But the data is not just technically rigorous. Like other communities who have livelihoods that are closely interconnected with the sustainability of their environment, people are particularly sensitive to changes in natural resources. Brenda is guided in this view by the teaching of the late Łutsël K’é First Nation elder Maurice Lockhart who explained: “some people who don’t care so much won’t notice the change”.
The development of the new Tracking Change project builds on this history of working with traditional knowledge holders in northern Canada. Rather than simply working with single communities on short term and isolated projects, however, the tracking change project aims to create opportunities for Indigenous communities in the northern to learn from one another about social-ecological change in the Mackenzie River Basin, as well as in the lower Amazon and Mekong basins. Brenda and the team of more than 24 community organizations and 18 Canadian and international academics also have the goal of building tools and capacity from the project for ongoing monitoring and improved governance with the ultimate interest in contribute to the sustainability of some of the worlds largest freshwater ecosystems.
-Prepared by Amy Masand, Communications -Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology