Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Faces of Ethnobiology: Janelle Marie Baker

Photo taken by Tim Hus

My name is Janelle Marie Baker and I grew up in the rural community of Sundre, Alberta that is in the foothills of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I am a PhD student, a Darrell Posey PhD Fellow, and a Vanier scholar in anthropology at McGill University. My research is on  Cree perceptions of wild food contamination in Alberta’s oil sands region. I have the kind permission from the Bigstone Cree Chief and Council to work in their community. Three terms that describe my research are: ethnoecology, wild food, and contamination.

High Bush Cranberry
I teach online classes in the Anthropology Department at Athabasca University, including a class in ethnobiology that one of my MA co-supervisors, Professor Leslie Main Johnson designed. I also work as a research consultant on traditional land use studies for several First Nations and manage a traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) project for the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, a non-profit organization that monitors the air quality in Alberta’s oil sands region. For this project, I work with a group of Elders from Fort McKay to record their TEK of berry patches and their perceptions of contamination from oil sands developments in the region. For more information on my work, please visit my website.

 As a child I spent my happiest times picking berries and smoking fish with my Métis grandparents, Bud and Marie Sheets. Now Grandma and Grandpa have slowed down a little and just go to northern Saskatchewan each year instead of doing their full rounds. Grandma claims they pick “anything they can get” there, but they mostly go for high bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum) that she makes into her own “cranberry ketchup” that she preserves through canning. I bring back berries from my fieldwork for my grandparents whenever I can and I  find the same happiness in doing ethnobiological research as I did harvesting with my grandparents as a child. One of the Elders from Fort McKay even sent fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) jelly home with me for my grandma when she had hip surgery.
I have so many memorable experiences from my work with Wixáritari in Mexico, First Nations and Métis in the Canadian subarctic, and Wehea Dayak in Indonesian Borneo. I feel such gratitude to all of the people who have invited me into their lives and shared their knowledge with me. It is with the sense of reciprocity to all of the people I have worked with that I decided to pursue my PhD after six years of doing applied research as a consultant. Everywhere I go people talk about how they worry that the food they harvest from the wild is contaminated. I hope my research can bring some attention to the problem and a realization that many peoples have different indicators and standards for contamination. 

Photo taken by Ratih Karnelia Kusumawardhani

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