Agricultural and Food Sciences welcomes Indigenous Scholar
Kyle Bobiwash’s journey to the the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba covered a lot of ground, from biomedical studies to wildlife biology to the science of wine, and finally, insects. We chatted with Faculty’s first Indigenous Scholar and the newest assistant professor in the Department of Entomology to learn about how he combines a love of fundamental science with a desire to increase knowledge of the natural world.
Tell us about yourself
Coming from a small rural town, I was initially directed to become a doctor or be involved in the medical field despite wanting to become a chef. I spent my first few years at the University of Ottawa studying Biomedical Science and working at Health Canada. Towards the end of my undergraduate degree I discovered that I could study and work with wildlife and ended up doing an Honour’s thesis in Biology. That led me to look at how I could combine my love of science and food, bringing me to study at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University. Once I realized that what I really loved was the fundamental science underlying these fields, I was fortunate to be accepted as a M.Sc. student Dan Schoen’s lab at McGill University where I studied the genetics and pollination biology of lowbush blueberry. This experience equipped me with some of the tools necessary to apply to do my Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University under Elizabeth Elle. Through her mentorship and the help of numerous undergraduate assistants I worked on describing the pollination ecology of highbush blueberry in British Columbia.
Why did you get into this area of study?
I’ve always been fascinated by the effects of different landscape features and processes on biodiversity. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad and me deciding which beavers dams to break apart to prevent our back yard from flooding, and which to keep to ensure that my amateur herpetology collecting could continue. As I grew older I came to value these observations and even assisted my older sister with biodiversity surveys she was doing for a university project while I was still in elementary school. My grandparents were medicine people, trappers and loggers; I like to think that my interest to increase our knowledge of the natural world stems from them. Coming to the University of Manitoba gives me the opportunity to not only study insect biodiversity, but allows me to frame this research so that it has value to multiple stakeholders such as conservation scientists, land owners/managers, farmers, governmental agencies and indigenous people across the province.
What are you seeking to explore with your research?
One of the overarching themes of my research program is increasing our understanding of the resources available and needed by beneficial insects in various landscapes. Knowing the relationships that particular pollinators have with particular plants communities across different landscapes, for example, allow us to better understand what is required to maintain or enhance pollinator populations. I’m hoping aspects of my research can help provide farmers with best practices to maximize ecosystem service delivery (pollination or pest predation) on their farms. Through either strategic land development or the enhancement of cropped land we can potentially optimize ecosystem service delivery while simultaneously ensuring that agricultural land provides elements needed to maintain biodiversity.
You are the Faculty’s first Indigenous Scholar. Can you tell us about how this shapes your research program?
Being the Faculty’s first Indigenous Scholar had that potential of being a very scary thing. At first I felt like the pressure would be overwhelming trying to address a multitude of issues. But I’m now realizing that many of the things I talk and think about revolve around core principles ingrained across many Indigenous communities. The idea of ensuring that the land’s integrity will be here for the next seven generations to harvest from and enjoy is something that I’m hoping my research promotes in its own little way. The stressors on our ecosystems are greater every year; through understanding the diversity and strength of the ecological relationships taking place on the land we can make informed decisions that will allow us to use land in a way to ensure that future generations will also have access to it for their needs.
Part of your mandate is helping the Faculty include Indigenous perspectives and approaches in teaching. Tell us about that.
Bringing an Indigenous perspective into the Faculty is probably the most challenging aspect of this new position. We have an extremely diverse Faculty and within it there are fields that have already benefited from work done by others here at the University and elsewhere to incorporate Indigenous viewpoints and promote inclusion. However, there remains a lot of work to be done to ensure that Indigenous people and their ideas can heard across all of science. The approaches that will need to be done so that Indigenous people can finally see themselves in the future as a graduate from any one of our departments will have to be tailored to specific areas. By bringing together members from the Faculty and both the greater Indigenous and agricultural community we can work together to identify areas that might be barriers to success or inclusion as well as highlight and expand on things where we’re doing good. One of the major initiatives I’m assisting with is the development of the Indigenous Issues in Food and Agriculture class that I’m hoping will serve as one of the major tent poles of our strategy to encourage greater participation of Indigenous people in agriculture as well as a better understanding of Indigenous issues as a whole for all graduates.
What courses will you be teaching? What appeals to you about being a teacher?
Come fall I’ll be taking on the responsibility of teaching Agroecology (AGEC 3510). When I interviewed for this position, I used agroecology as the basis of the teaching seminar I designed because I thought it would best demonstrate both my teaching ability and my love for science. Being able to challenge students, as well as be challenged by them, while talking about my favourite two subjects (agriculture and ecology) is something that reaffirms why I chose this path. Not only do I want the help the field develop and become more important in decision making, but I’m hoping students that leave my class have that same drive and become the next generation of decision makers that incorporate what they learn here into their personal ethos.
Any interesting stories you’d like to share about your field of study?
Working with bees naturally results in a bounty of stories involving having to run: either out of vehicles due to someone forgetting to close up a colony or out of clothing that disgruntled bees have managed to sneak into.
Impressions of your new home town?
Of all the places I’ve lived, Winnipeg has been amongst the friendliest. Despite being here for a relatively short amount of time, when I walk around the campus, my neighborhood or head into shops, people know me by name and are hoping that I’ve been settling into the city well. There’s no better feeling than being made to feel like you’re a part of a bigger community.