How a Canadian University Combines Scientific Research with Indigenous Knowledge


The pandemic has had a major impact on the ability of universities to conduct research when many international students cannot perform their lab work on site. It is in this context that FNUniv Imagine this innovative way of working with these students.

Ana Karim Arellano Franco, 24, is one of the students who have benefited from this initiative. This undergraduate student at Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico City is doing research in biotechnology. From her home in Mexico, she worked in the Department of Indigenous Knowledge and Science in FNUniv, through the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship, which matches universities with international students.

Anna Karim Arellano Franco has always been fascinated by indigenous knowledge and the medicinal properties of plants. She wanted to know more about the chemistry of plants. She also makes her own tea.

She says herbal remedies are important to her because many Mexicans are indigenous. This is also the case.

traditional knowledge To my grandmother, to my mother, and now I’m interested tooas you say.

She worked remotely on her project with the assistant professor of chemistry at FNUniv, Vincent Ziffel, and under the direction of Archie Winnie, the elder from Saskatchewan.

For his project, he had to identify, extract and analyze the medicinal properties of seven common plants, including salsabella, Canadian mint, rose bush and echinacea.

I’m focusing on the molecules we’re looking for in these plants and seeing how we can synthesize them using biochemistry, and that’s with respect for First Nations., she explained.

Student Anna Karim Arellano Franco had to do her research remotely due to the pandemic. She was guided by the native Archie Winnie.

Photo: First Nations University in Canada

This respect is an important part of the process. It means focusing on how it has been used in the past. For example, echinacea has been used to treat sore throats, and we seek the same goals for its properties as an antibiotic., she explained.

It must be said that the First Nations used these plants in this way, which is why we are doing this research. We must also ask ourselves how to use these molecules without exploiting them.

With the pandemic preventing her from accessing the university laboratory, Ana Karim Arellano Franco had to change her plans and study the seven medicinal plants from her home in Mexico.

Their results form the basis of laboratory analyzes. Other students at the site will extract the particles from the plants, explains Professor Vincent Ziffel.

Take a look at the underrated original herbal remedies and their metabolites, such as alkaloids or other antioxidants., he explains.

Some of these molecules can fight cancer, or they are just good antioxidants, which is important in preventing cancer from growing.adds the professor.

But above all, he says, the goal here is to do something unique, which is to correctly identify indigenous knowledge in the context of plant chemistry research. We want to highlight those that are based on indigenous knowledge.

Anna Karim Arellano Franco was in a relationship with Archie Winnie, an Elder from the Sweetgrass First Nation, located 26 km northwest of Battleford, Saskatchewan.

If sharing knowledge can help people and if they are loyal, Archie and Winnie will be willing to talk to them about it.

Photo: Radio Canada / Richard Ajikutai

Archie Weenie collaborates with FNUniv For years, plants and nature have been viewed as promoting healing.

I got lost at one point when I was young. I came back to my roots and I haven’t left this path since. I had sweet grass and no one to turn to. It took me years to revive my soul and be strong enough to return to my community. Sweetgrass do I understand, he explained on his sweat lodge site in Regina, after a cleansing ritual.

Archie Winnie says many Indigenous people are reluctant to share their traditional knowledge for fear that people will abuse the plants.

For its part, if knowledge sharing can help people And If they are honestHe will agree to talk to them about it.

Archie Winnie says he enjoys working with scientists. it’s good. It gives me something when I work with professors with their diplomas. I also have my own degree, but my degree comes from nature. My holy book is the mother, the universe.

When seniors are asked to share their knowledge, Archie Weenie ensures that it is done with respect, that protocols will be respected and that tobacco will be served. He says it is important to teach this to the students.

By sharing their knowledge, he says, seniors are also curious to learn more about plant molecules. This curiosity reassures Archie Winnie as a teacher and science enthusiast.

Vincent Ziffel recalls that it took years for the First Nations University in Canada to establish its relationships with Indigenous elders.

We of course wish to return this information, this data, what we discover, to the communities who kindly accepted us and invited us to gatherings and festivities.

Vincent Ziffel says working with Indigenous people has changed his teachings.

I learned a lot from the oral traditions of the original storytellers, and I try to approach my teaching in the same way because I think we learn best through storytelling, and I think the students appreciate that too. . I think it allows us to better preserve information.

With information from Laura Sciarpelletti

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