Global partnerships
India, Hay River team up for research

Eileen Collins
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 06/99) - The Friendship Centre and the Arctic Institute are successfully collaborating on an international research program about the role of indigenous women in forest communities.

The same research is taking place simultaneously in the rain forests in India and in Hay River. The Dene Cultural Institute (DCI) and the Arctic Institute (AI) have worked together on several projects. Professor Karim-Aly Kassam was giving a course at the DCI and had promised Joanne Barnaby, DCI's executive director, that he would conduct a research project and she suggested Hay River.

The AI was created 54 years ago in 1945 by an act of parliament. Its purpose was to do scientific research and to facilitate the orderly development of the North. The research began in scientific and archaeological studies. The AI found out there is a much wider role in capacity building and community development.

The AI has to be invited to a community before they work in it and they must have a partner. Joanne Barnaby suggested the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre and the partnership was born.

Three locally trained women, Agnes Fabian, Georgina Fabien and Pauline Plamondin, were involved in the project. The research is looking at how the traditional role of women has changed in these communities in Hay River and India and what can be done in a meaningful way to improve the condition of women.

Professor Kassam said the project was held up because the Indian government decided to test an atomic bomb which caused some cooling in the relationship between Canada and India. Finally, they were able to do research in both countries at the same time.

The context of the research is that in both India and Canada there has been a history of colonization and industrialization. Professor Kassam remarked, "The British had control in significant portions of the world. They left behind bureaucracies and institutions that are remarkably similar."

What is making it difficult to do research in India is the government is forcing tribal communities to leave the forest so that the government can bring the forest resources under control.

Professor Kassam says that having participated in interviews and seen the community, that there is a serious role for the AI to play in Hay River. "There is a strong need for some kind of initiative that supports and help organize women."

Global research indicates that if a man in his work earns money, it may be used for the family. If meaningful work for money is available to women, it is used for the family. Boys and girls in the family benefit.

The role of the AI is not finished. Now that the interview process is finished, a report will be generated. The AI will be coming up with some concrete suggestions that will have an immediate impact on Hay River.

Professor Kassam said, "This is not a one-night stand. It will be a long-term relationship. The community is a wonderful community. A lot can begin right here. We will stand beside the community and say to the funding agencies, organizations and community leadership, 'We stand by our partners.' It has to begin in the community.

The policy makers are here. Later we can talk to Yellowknife and Ottawa. Development may involve government and corporate funding in order to get it to private enterprise. The options remain open because we haven't completed our research. Ultimately, it will be self-directed and locally controlled."