Western science and Indigenous knowledge leaders come together to address caribou recovery and habitat protection.
Mateen Hessami, a wildlife ecologist with the ABMI subsidiary Biodiversity Pathways and recently graduated University of British Columbia Master’s student, is being recognized for his efforts to support Splatsin in their dedicated and long-term objective to recover endangered caribou populations within their traditional territory.
The innovative work has earned Hessami, a tribal member of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation—Indigenous, awarded by Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving real-world challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. The award was presented at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on November 22.
Hessami—who completed his Master’s degree under the supervision of Dr. Adam Ford in the Department of Biology at UBC–Okanagan and who now works full time for Biodiversity Pathways—is being recognized for his role in supporting Splatsin to document their rich Indigenous knowledge, values, and perspectives related to protecting the Revelstoke Complex caribou herd, and then share 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,” said Hessami, who says his own Indigenous heritage 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 of a three-day workshop in April 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 joint learning session.
“Western scientists listened to observations and concerns from Elders and community hunters, and community members learned more about the 20 years of Western science that has been applied to the Revelstoke complex caribou herds,” said 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.”
As a wildlife ecologist, 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.
“Mitacs was the thread that wove us together,” he said, explaining that Mitacs was integral in building an important linkage between an Indigenous community, a university, and a research institute. “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.”
The Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation—Indigenous is presented to an Indigenous student or postdoctoral fellow who has participated in a Mitacs program and has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation that significantly impacts or supports Indigenous communities and/or populations.
Hessami is one of eight Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining seven recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation, commercialization or exceptional leadership in other areas of research.
In congratulating the winners, Mitacs CEO John Hepburn remarked on the importance of providing Canadian innovators with opportunities for experiential skills development through strategic partnership between industry, government and academia.
“These prestigious awards, now in their 12th year, celebrate the tremendous achievement of top Mitacs talent and recognize the infinite potential for innovation made possible when capable leaders work together,” Hepburn said. “Mitacs is honoured to play a role in helping to advance critical research, and foster economic growth, across Canada.”
For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.