Indigenous knowledge and Western science unite to protect B.C. caribou

The Researcher

Wildlife ecologist Mateen Hessami

The Challenge

Recovering endangered caribou populations within Splatsin traditional territory

The Solution

Supporting Splatsin in documenting their rich Indigenous knowledge, values, and future visions related to protecting caribou that inhabit the Revelstoke Complex area and sharing these insights with Western scientists and decision-makers

The Outcome

A three-day workshop bringing Splatsin Elders, council members, and community hunters together with federal and provincial government caribou experts, conservation officers and academics to share traditional knowledge and learn together

A Kelowna-based wildlife ecologist’s work supports Splatsin efforts to recover endangered caribou populations within their traditional territory

Knowledge sharing and co-learning support Indigenous-led efforts to address caribou recovery and rekindle connections to the land

A wildlife ecologist is supporting Splatsin in their dedicated and long-term work to recover endangered caribou populations within their traditional territory. 

Mateen Hessami, member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, a newly minted Master’s graduate in Biology at The University of British Columbia – Okanagan, is supporting Splatsin in documenting their rich Indigenous knowledge, values, and perspectives related to protecting the Revelstoke Complex caribou – and then sharing that insight with Western scientists and decision-makers. 

“Splatsin are leaders in caribou recovery, so it’s important that their voice is heard at the table,” says Hessami, who works full-time for Biodiversity Pathways, a wildlife research institute in Kelowna and says his own Indigenous ways of knowing played a role in strengthening his understanding of the issue. “We are partners in Splatsin’s desire to restore a culturally significant species – the caribou – but first we need to document their perspective and future vision, ensure Splatsin community can access and learn from this information while also relaying some of this important information to decision-makers.” 

Supported by Mitacs, Hessami helped facilitate a three-day workshop in April 2022 to bring Splatsin Elders, council members and community hunters together with federal and provincial government caribou experts, conservation officers and academics. The first two days were devoted to archiving Splatsin knowledge, perspectives and value systems around caribou recovery and moose management. The third day was devoted to a co-learning session. 

“Western scientists listened to the observations and concerns from Elders and community hunters, and community members learned about the 20 years of Western science that has been applied to the Revelstoke Complex caribou herds,” says Hessami. “Not only were explicit ideas to recover caribou identified during the workshops by Splatsin community members, but we’re now working to action and investigate these ideas through collaborative research.” 


For example, the workshop identified habitat as a top priority, and Splatsin are now part of a working group advocating for habitat protection of the Revelstoke Complex caribou herd. Some Splatsin participants indicated that harvesting moose populations in the Revelstoke Complex area is important in protecting caribou because moose attract wolves, and wolves prey on caribou. However, many community hunters do not hunt moose in this particular area because of the high cost of travelling to north Revelstoke from Enderby, British Columbia. As a result, Splatsin and Biodiversity Pathways have identified an opportunity to apply for a grant to fund a moose-hunting initiative. 

“We discovered that there are solutions where moose hunters can be satisfied and moose can be kept at stable numbers to promote caribou recovery,” Hessami says, explaining that the reason moose are more prolific in the area is because human forestry practices have changed the landscape. 

In recognition of his work, Hessami won the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation—Indigenous, presented at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in November 2022. 

Hessami continues to work closely with Splatsin as a partner in advancing modern and shared approaches to wildlife management. He credits his Mitacs-funded project for solidifying his role as a liaison between Western science and Indigenous knowledge. 

“The themes documented during this project aren’t just sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. We continue to actively learn and listen as we work to operationalize what Splatsin have told us they are intent on achieving.” 

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

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Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

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