Article Category Archives: Interview

On Two-Eyed Seeing:
An Interview with Chelsey Purdy

This entry was posted on by .


Chelsey Purdy is the Coordinator for the NSERC PromoScience Two-Eyed Seeing Camp, a summer camp for Indigenous youth that integrates Indigenous Knowledge and Western science, now in its third year. Chelsey is a recent graduate of the Applied Human Nutrition program at Mount Saint Vincent University. She is currently living in Halifax and recently started a MSc in Nutrition at the Mount. Chelsey grew up on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and is a member of Acadia First Nation. In her role as coordinator of the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp, Chelsey works with three Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia, including her home community of Acadia First Nation.

Chelsey spoke with Understorey Magazine about Two-Eyed Seeing, the summer camps, and her experiences in a university science program.

Understorey Magazine: Can you tell us about Two-Eyed Seeing or Etuaptmumk?

Chelsey Purdy: In short, Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw) is viewing the world through one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing and the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing. Navigating both perspectives can be tricky at times, due to the extroverted nature of Western approaches to communication. Western perspectives have a tendency to dominate or override Indigenous perspectives in many forums. Indigenous scholars have described this as a modern form of colonization. In addition to this, Western science historically separates and categorizes things in an effort to understand the world. This approach makes it difficult to combine things that don’t fit in a predetermined or accepted scientific category. Those who are guided by Two-Eyed Seeing strongly believe that, to get the whole picture, we must draw from both Western and Indigenous perspectives, with deep respect for what each one offers.

Based upon the teachings of Albert Marshall, I have come to understand that Two-Eyed Seeing is inherent to many Indigenous people, and especially Mi’kmaw people, who have had to weave between both perspectives since the arrival of Europeans. However, navigating spaces that are Western dominated is still a difficult feat for many Indigenous people, as their values and perspectives are sometimes not appreciated in Western-dominated settings. Two-Eyed Seeing offers a framework where these values and perspectives can be integrated with Western views, creating opportunity for new ideas, co-learning, and reconciliation.

UM: How is Two-Eyed Seeing part of the process of the summer camps?

CP: The Two-Eyed Seeing Camp is a partnership between Sipekne’katik First Nation, Pictou Landing First Nation, Acadia First Nation, Mount Saint Vincent University, and Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey. The camp is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) PromoScience Program, Canadian Roots Exchange, and (most recently) Medavie, due to an active partnership with their Breakfast and Beyond Program.

We are guided by Two-Eyed Seeing in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the curriculum. Two-Eyed Seeing informs everything from how we approach our relationships to the content that we create.

For me, the most important part of my role as coordinator is finding balance between community needs and institutional regulation. Much of this involves facilitating communication between outcome-oriented procedures and the relationship/process-oriented community. Finding this balance, as well as building reciprocal relationships, is at the core of Two-Eyed Seeing and the camp program.

When it comes to camp activities, we integrate both Indigenous Cultural Knowledge and Western science into curricula. In one of our activities called Mijipjewey na Pisun or “Food is Medicine,” we explore fish as a traditional food, how to fillet a fish, and the nutritional science behind fish and other traditional foods. In another activity, we explore the physics behind the sounds of different hand drums by recording and analyzing the sound waves of drumbeats.

UM: Is there something that surprised you during the camps? A reaction or realization or process that you didn’t expect?

I have been involved with the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp for three years now (as a student employee, intern, and now coordinator) and I learn something new each day. Much of this learning comes from working with people, including Elders or Knowledge Keepers, community members, academics, and university staff. While I learned things like grant writing, program administration, and how to do presentations when I was a student, this program is teaching me how to apply these teachings in the community and learn new life skills that connect me deeper to my Indigeneity. Some of our main partners include Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey and the community education directors. Working with these partners, and with my supervisor, I have also learned a significant amount about curricula and education.

UM: You have a science-based university degree. Were you able to integrate Two-Eyed Seeing into earning that degree and/or can you foresee integrating it into your career?

As Mi’kmaw woman who has been taught and brought up with a predominately Western perspective, I did struggle with learning about Two-Eyed Seeing in a university setting. As I had more opportunities to learn with and from communities, I learned how both perspectives could be brought together. As part of my undergraduate degree, I completed the internship education program (a requirement for becoming a registered dietitian) and was able to complete my community nutrition placement with the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp. I also completed my honours thesis on examining and understanding how collaboration in science outreach programing for Indigenous communities has been applied. In these ways, I was able to bring Two-Eyed Seeing into my university degree. I have recently started a Master of Science in Nutrition Degree at Mount Saint Vincent University, and plan to continue my involvement with the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp during my studies. I also know that I’ll bring Two-Eyed Seeing to whatever career I end up in.

UM: How do you think Two-Eyed Seeing could/should change the way our federal government and other decision-makers deal with complex issues like climate change and ecological collapse?

Actually, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Elder Albert Marshall on the topic of Two-Eyed Seeing in my role as Two-Eyed Seeing Camp Project Coordinator. During the interview, Albert touched on biodiversity, climate, and more. We will be sharing this interview through social media and other websites and I believe that some of his wisdom can be used to answer this question.

From my perspective, inclusion of Indigenous communities, people, and perspectives in decision-making processes is a must. To do this, inclusion has to be discussed, as it may mean different things to different people. Many decision-makers are currently non-Indigenous people, who historically have not effectively consulted with communities about things that ultimately affect them. This is seen across Turtle Island (including Canada). Google “environmental racism” and you will have more than enough examples. In the same vein, I will highlight the work of some amazing African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaw people as shown in There’s Something in the Water. This film gets at the very heart of what I am trying to describe.

I cannot stress enough the importance of including Indigenous communities and people in the planning, execution, and evaluation of programs and policy. Exclusion or inclusion effects the environment, education, food security, and health. Indigenous communities/groups/people need to have a voice in decision-making, not only about the environment, but about our health, access to food, education, and beyond.

One of the many reasons I have stayed with the Two-eyed Seeing Camp Program and Mount Saint Vincent University for my graduate studies is the program’s devotion to answering the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and the space they have given me to develop the voice I share with you today.

photo of 2019 team for the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp

Two-Eyed Seeing Camp team (2019). From left to right: Shannon Ledger, Kwaku Agyare, Dr. Shannan Grant, Jaclyn MacNeil, Florence Blackett (Millbrook First Nation), Chelsey Purdy (Acadia First Nation).

Learn more about the Two-Eyed Seeing Camp on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In Understorey Magazine, read more about Two-Eyed Seeing and Indigenous Knowledge in Etuaptmumk by Rebecca Thomas and Elapultiek by Shalan Joudry.

On Science and Storytelling:
An Interview with Maryam Heba

This entry was posted on by .


Maryam Heba describes herself as a Muslim woman from the Middle East, a first-generation immigrant to Canada, a graduate from the Honours Life Sciences Program at McMaster University, an advocate for women in science, and someone who is passionate about combining science, art, and storytelling. Naturally, we wanted to speak with Maryam and learn more about her experiences!

The following conversation took place virtually in September 2020.

Understorey Magazine: You recently graduated from a university science program. During your studies, did you experience any difficulties or challenges related to being a woman and/or a woman of colour?

Maryam Heba: I would say it’s more complex than that. During my studies at university, I did not notice any major challenges as a result of being a Muslim woman. I do have stories from when I was younger. During my first year in a Canadian school, when I was ten, no one could believe that someone from the Middle East could speak English so well. Another time, a classmate insisted that I could not speak “Egyptian” because I could not understand the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in a Social Studies documentary.

Silly childhood stories aside, I have to say that being the child of first-generation immigrants is an incredibly complex position to be in. The sacrifices that were made by my parents are immeasurable: family and friends, decades of career achievements, and lots and lots of money. Add to that the discomfort of moving to a country where they could not connect with the language, religion, culture, or even the food. They made these sacrifices just to make sure that I have a better life.

My father insisted that I become a doctor so that I would have a successful future—the reason he came to this country. I took the responsibility to make my parents proud very seriously. It truly felt like a loan that I had to repay. This repayment, however, came at the expense of my mental health and independence.

My life became fully focused on school. I participated in very few extracurriculars. When I scored 95 on a science quiz, I was told I needed to work harder. And so, I placed unattainable expectations on myself and fully believed that if I did not ace that next test, my future was over. At one point in second year of university, I hyperventilated in the shower hoping to pass out so I wouldn’t have to take a test. Everyone knew me as the intelligent kid who would make a great doctor someday. But the further I walked in life, the less I wanted to become a doctor. I knew I wanted to genuinely help people and do something that I truly enjoyed, but being a doctor checked only one of those boxes.

As my father would not take no for an answer, I signed up for the MCAT. Twice. The first year, I cancelled my appointment because I could not get myself to study. Keep in mind, I graduated from a Life Sciences program, where I had already studied a lot of this material. I am no stranger to spending hours on end preparing for a test. Yet I was immensely stressed about the MCAT and my brain just kept rejecting the material. I am not a person who gives up easily, though, and I signed up for the following year of testing. Again, I could not study and I was not ready. But I wrote the test to show that I went, and I voided my test results. At that point, I realized that I would not go to medical school anytime soon and I had zero plans for after I graduated from my degree. I felt pressure to continue school in any type of Masters program, but this did not feel right. So, I took a leap of faith and a gap year. God was it thrilling!

UM: How did you spend your gap year?

MH: The gap year went against every single value my father had drilled into me for the previous twelve years. I was in uncharted territory: school-free. Looking back, I used my time wisely. I got my first official job (I was not allowed to work while I was in school), which helped me pay off my student loans and develop a lot of soft skills that I had missed out on. I was also fortunate enough to start therapy and had the privilege of travelling to Amsterdam. This was the first time I had travelled since I had landed in Canada thirteen years prior and I was able to bond with my extended family there.

I also started volunteering for Lotus STEMM. This organization was founded by Dr. Roopali Chaudhary and provides mentoring and networking opportunities for South Asian women in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine. Lotus STEMM is run by a team of scientists, healthcare professionals, engineers, and educators. They currently offer a wonderful one-on-one mentorship program where youth (at least 16 years of age) and women can find guidance on professional skills and personal goals as well as meet other mentees. They also started a Lotus STEMM-CAGIS chapter for South Asian girls (ages 9-16) for hands-on STEM outreach.

So, in other words, during my gap year, I went on a journey to find myself. Throughout this journey, I realized that I do not need to become exactly what my father wanted me to become. I still greatly respect his sacrifices to bring me to Canada. But, I also know that no one can live my life except me. I have faith in a future where my father sees me fulfilled and successful, in my own way, and knows that his sacrifices were worth it.

Now I am in my second gap year after my undergrad degree and I am continuing my work in science communication. In addition to Lotus STEMM, I have participated in the Global Science Show on Twitter and have recently started volunteering with Art The Science, a non-profit organization founded by Julia Krolik, which just so happens to be fully run by women! We host residencies in which artists can immerse themselves in a science research lab and then create beautiful artwork that we feature on our platform. We also feature many Canadian and international science-art creators on our amazing blog (#5 blog in Canada via Feedspot!) and on our online SciArt gallery.

I am also looking into pursuing teaching in the long run. I’ve always had a passion for teaching. I see it as perfect career where I can communicate science and directly help people as well. I am so excited to see what the future brings!

UM: Most of your work these days focuses on science communication. Is there a point when you realised this is what you want to do?

MH: I’ve always had an inclination towards science and art. In high school I maintained my creative outlet through communication technology classes, where I learned video-making, design, photography, and so on. However, I did not directly connect science and art until my last year of undergrad, when I took a wonderful class at McMaster called Science & Storytelling. There, my professors encouraged us to let go of rigid scientific rules. They led us into a creative journey of translating hard-cold scientific evidence into intriguing, creative, and human stories. That class was truly an epiphany in my career. From there, I took it upon myself to fill my last semesters with science communication classes—and I finally felt like I was taking these classes for me, not anyone else.

UM: Why do you think this field is important, especially for women and women of colour?

MH: It is important for women and women of colour to engage in science communication because they provide a diverse representation of science, thus making it accessible to underrepresented populations. A project I’m working on with Lotus STEMM improves the accessibility to science by tackling a health equity barrier: language. Due to language barriers, some communities may not connect as well with information from a local English news source as they would from a WhatsApp chain message in their native language. We tackled this issue by translating scientific knowledge about COVID-19 into over ten South Asian languages, along with other minority languages like Arabic. We then presented this information in an engaging video series. I created mixed media clips for these videos, and produced the Arabic version of the scripts. Our videos received positive reception from South Asian communities and the media. With science communication, we give a voice to underrepresented populations, including women and women of colour. Whether by telling their stories or by delivering scientifically accurate information, we help create a more equitable life for all.