UNB News
News and stories from one of Canada’s top universities

UNB celebrates ‘Skitqomiqewi Kcicihtuwinut’ Dr. Charles Sacobie

Author: Tim Jaques

Posted on Apr 8, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton , UNB Saint John

Dr. Charles Sacobie

A University of New Brunswick (UNB) assistant biology professor was recognized as a keeper of both Indigenous and academic scientific knowledge in a ceremony held at the Wu Conference Centre on March 21.

Dr. Charles Sacobie, whose research interests are fish ecophysiology and bioenergetics, holds the title of Indigenous science scholar or Skitqomiqewi Kcicihtuwinut (Skit-goh-mee-gewi Kchee-geet-wee-nood), meaning "Earth Knowledge Keeper" in the Wolastoqey language. Although Sacobie has held this title since July 2022, the ceremony was the first to recognize him as such.

In offering congratulations, Dr. Paul Mazerolle, president and vice-chancellor, noted that UNB had committed to incorporating an Indigenous lens to all academic and strategic planning initiatives.

“It is imperative and it’s important that Indigenous and non-Indigenous students see Wabanaki ways of thinking and knowing reflected in UNB’s curriculum, and that Indigenous students see themselves reflected in our faculty and our programs,” he said.

The Wabanaki Confederacy consists of the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqey, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot Nations.

Sacobie was praised as “a beacon of inspiration for aspiring Indigenous scientists” by Cheyenne Joseph, Piluwitahasuwin and associate vice-president, Indigenous engagement.

“Today, we are celebrating a significant milestone: Appointing an individual whose work in Indigenous science, leadership, and guidance has profoundly impacted our academic and Wabanaki communities.”

The ceremony’s MC, Dr. Sanjeev Seahra, department chair of the department of mathematics and statistics, who will be the new dean of science as of July 1, said UNB recognizes the need to enhance Indigenous presence.

“We know that diversity is crucial to the research and innovation done in our university.”

Along with singing and drumming by On the Spirits’ Breeze, a sacred pipe and water ceremony was conducted by Elder Jeannie Bartigogue, UNB’s Kcicihtuwinut and Knowledge-Carrier-in-Residence, who also offered an opening prayer.

Sacobie was given moccasins, and then walked down and then up a path of cedar leaves.

Sacobie’s position is “not a job, it’s a responsibility,” said Elder Imelda Perley.

“You carry that traditional knowledge in a good way, for the Earth, for the people.”

In his remarks, Sacobie remembered his mother, a residential school survivor from Wotstak (Woodstock) First Nation who raised him in the Saint John area but sent him back to the home community every summer.

“Her unwavering faith in me fueled my own belief in myself, making her simple words ‘Go get ‘em, boy’ a constant source of motivation.”

Sacobie’s research group, Sahkupi Mawi, is dedicated to using both Indigenous and academic forms of knowledge.

“The goal is to integrate these perspectives, for the benefit of all, recognizing that each way of knowing has its unique contribution, and both are equal,” he said.

“The approach allows us to bring together diverse perspectives and understanding to address complex issues and improve our world.”

This is known as Etuaptmumk or “Two-Eyed Seeing,” a term coined by Mi’kmaq Elders Albert and Murdena Marshall of Eskasoni First Nation, based on the teachings of Chief Charles Labrador of Wasoqopa'q (Acadia) First Nation. It sees the world with Indigenous traditional knowledge through one eye, and with western science through the other.

In an earlier interview, Sacobie gave as an example of this approach an investigation of Atlantic sturgeon in the Restigouche River, which fish harvesters from Listuguj First Nation were finding in Atlantic salmon nets.

He said 30 years ago, they might never see a sturgeon. Now, everyone is finding them.

He said traditional knowledge is used to determine why sturgeon are now returning. Is there now a good feeding ground? Is there a potential spot for breeding?

“It uses historical information from the community and the community is driving the question. And then for me, it’s ‘How can I support this as a western scientist and Indigenous as well? How can I help and support them in answering a question derived from the community?’” he said.

Sacobie started in 2013 as a teaching professor at UNB, when he taught first-year biology.

“I started diving into the possibilities of working with Indigenous groups and how I could help them. It probably wasn’t until 2018 that I started hearing the term ‘Two-Eyed Seeing.’”

Sacobie said with Two-Eyed Seeing it is important not just to give updates but get the input of community members and have them involved with all research, including data analysis.

“It is the experiences of the community, and belief systems, that drives these research questions.”

He works with the Gespe'gewa'gi Institute of Natural Understanding (GINU), which serves the Mi’kmaq communities of Listuguj, Ugpi’ganjig (Eel River Bar) and Oinpegitjoig (Pabineau) First Nations, and with the Wolastoquey conservation group MNCC, which serves the six Wolastoqey communities along the Wolastoq.

“What started my journey was when Patricia Saulis, executive director of MNCC, reached out to me in the summer of 2018 asking if I would be willing to help with some of these projects,” he said.

He would like to have a network in place where, if communities have questions, if they want to collaborate, or if they have youth that want to get involved in projects, mentorship or STEM, there would be help available.

“It is about bringing more Indigenous youth into STEM and keeping them here,” he said.

The four young women of On the Spirits’ Breeze match that description.

Grace Barry, a forestry and environmental management student from L'sitkuk (Bear River) First Nation, said she was honoured to be part of the ceremony.

“It’s definitely needed. If we listen to Indigenous knowledge and science rather than just science, a lot more will be done,” she said.

Erika Ouellette, a biology student from Neqotkuk (Tobique) First Nation, is considering pursuing a master’s degree with Sacobie in the fall.

“This is paving the path for a lot of us to be able to be seen and feel seen within a department that we love so much. I can’t wait for all of us to be able to use our methodologies and our knowledge in collaboration with our western knowledge that we’re taught in school,” she said.

Olivia Hamilton, a student at Renaissance College at UNB with a minor in biology, is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation in Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland). She praised Sacobie’s connection with his students and looked forward to more use of the Two-Eyed Seeing method.

“I think there is so much knowledge embedded within the culture and within our language and within our ways of knowing that having this formally recognized in a university institution is so incredibly important.”

Sage Simon, a biology major from Natoaganeg (Eel Ground) First Nation, said she was “excited for what the future has to hold” for the position of Skitqomiqewi Kcicihtuwinut.

Sacobie plans a new course, Indigenous Methodologies, which will be “on the books” by fall 2025.

This course would bring in Elders and other Knowledge Keepers.

“I’ve done my western degrees. Now I’m beginning my journey for my Indigenous degree, which will be non-stop until my last days,” Sacobie said.