Hope and Alternative Lives | Watershed Sentinel

Max Liboiron, Michif / Settler, starts his morning in the dark, running with his dogs and collecting food. Right now it’s rosehip berries and partridge berries. Then, they begin their day as an associate professor at Memorial University, in Beothuk and Mi’kmaq territory.

Dr. Liboiron is an Indigenous science and technology researcher specializing in plastic pollution research. Liboiron is also the founder and director of the Civic Environmental Action Research Laboratory (CLEAR). Liboiron has been recognized for his early career excellence, and his genius has a wide reach: in research, teaching, methodology – and hope.

On September 7, Liboiron received one of the highest accolades for early career academics. An interesting change occurs when a researcher can win a Royal Society of Canada award for his anti-colonial science. Liboiron describes the anti-colonial sciences as being “characterized by the way in which it does not reproduce the right of settlers and settlers to land and to indigenous cultures, concepts, knowledge and lives”.

The work of the CLEAR Marine Sciences Laboratory is based on values ​​of humility, responsibility, fairness and anti-colonial research relationships. CLEAR puts “land relations at the center of our knowledge production as we monitor plastic pollution in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador,” the website explains. “It requires criticism, but above all it requires action. “


Dr Max Liboiron, Indigenous science and technology researcher in plastic pollution research


Community research specializes in the relationship between plastic pollution and food webs.

“We’ve stopped using toxic chemicals to process samples, which means there’s a whole area of ​​analysis we can’t do. We also use discretionary sampling rather than random sampling in our study design, to highlight food sovereignty when we look at plastics in food webs, ”says Liboiron.

“We don’t take fish in an abstract way, we take food samples – all that food has been eaten,” says Liboiron – meaning that the samples are collected from the fishermen while they are cleaning their fish.

Pollution is colonialism

Liboiron’s book Pollution is colonialism mixes indigenous studies, pollution research and decolonial scientific practices.

In the book Liboiron describes pollution as “an implementation of ongoing colonial relations with the land”, adding that “pollution is better understood as the violence of colonial land relations rather than as environmental damage, which is a symptom of violence “.

There are many ways of doing environmental science and doing “specific, place-based, obligatory” actions, says Liboiron.

Pollution is colonialism explains how the “threshold theory” of pollution arose from a 1925 article by HW Streeter and EB Phelps. By studying a specific stretch of the Ohio River, their pollution theory was “that there was a time when water could not be purified and that time could be measured, predicted, and correctly called pollution,” says Liboiron.

Pollution science and activism must “go beyond allowable damage thresholds, beyond availability and beyond access to land that thresholds and ‘remoteness” demand. “

For almost a century now, it has served corporate interests as government regulations assume that “a body – water, human or otherwise – can handle a certain amount of contaminants before scientifically detectable damage occurs.” The assimilation theory does not take plastics into account.

As Liboiron pulls “little pieces of burnt plastic from a dove’s gizzard,” they reflect, “the pollution threshold theory and the future of plastics as waste look like bad relationships.”

Liboiron develops these bad relations: “I mean the scientific theory which allows a certain quantity of pollution to occur and the right which accompanies it to the Earth to assimilate this pollution. I mean colonialism.

Cover of the book La pollution, c'est le colonialisme“The structures that allow the global distribution of plastics and their full integration into ecosystems and daily human life are based on colonial land relations, the supposed access of settlers and colonial projects to indigenous lands”, for their own purposes, writes Liboiron. Pollution science and activism must “go beyond permissible damage thresholds, beyond availability and beyond access to land that thresholds and ‘remoteness’ demand. “

The book also explains how any methodology is always part of land relations, and therefore constitutes a very good starting point “to establish good relations (sometimes called ethical)”. Liboiron describes the CLEAR laboratory in a tweet as “a methodological incubator for anti-colonial methods. From who we hire to how we dispose of animal parts, we find ways that settlers and native scientists can work in parallel.

Liboiron specifies in Pollution is colonialism, “The methodological question is: how can I get to a place where these relationships are properly scientific, rather than non-scientific questions, in the same way that ethics sections are added at the end of it. ‘a science textbook? “

“How can I, as a scientist, make alternate lives and good relationships with Earth an integral part of mainstream scientific practice? “

Albatross, teaching and hope

Remember the famous haunting image of the albatross, dead with viscera exposed, plastics filling its young body?

This photo is shared often, serving as an alarm clock and the perfect PowerPoint slide. Liboiron wants this to stop.

“These pictures make me drive, as they say here – they really make me angry,” says Liboiron. “Number one is you show your relative’s corpse, you don’t do that. Second, they use a really fucked up model of justice to say “if I don’t show you this horrible picture of this death, then justice will not be served.” If you have to traumatize people to get justice, then your model of justice must be wrong. “

Third, this image is not used accurately, says Liboiron. Albatrosses do not die from ingesting plastics. “Like many other bird species, albatrosses maintain their populations by having lots of babies, and many of those babies die. But a small number of babies live. It’s also the way humans kept our populations – back then, before vaccines. “

“The idea of ​​alterlife is that we don’t wait for the decolonial horizon to appear. You start to work now, with what you have, to try to build the world you want – while respecting the fact that it is sick and tainted.

Most albatrosses live in one place, Midway Atoll. They roost there and come back every year. It’s the only place in the world where seabirds thrive and increase their populations, says Liboiron. The increase is from about 18,000 pairs in 1923 to 590,000 pairs in 2005.

“It is therefore a very good example of” alterlife “and against the worlds that technoscience has helped to make. Alterlife is life reborn, which asserts itself and continues all the same.

“I use ‘alterlife’ instead of just saying something like: thrive in the world, even in a shitty world,” says Liboiron. “The idea of ​​alterlife is not to wait for the decolonial horizon to appear. You start to work now, with what you have, to try to build the world you want – while respecting the fact that it is sick and tainted.

“These birds that are totally full of plastic are among the only seabirds that thrive – although they are also very full of plastic.”

The plastic-filled albatross is a symbol of hope, says Liboiron. Of how we can thrive, despite pollution, in this case. “A lot of people say you only thrive if you are pure,” says Liboiron. They note that there are many people who would not meet until this term, or would not use it. “Whether it’s the scoop or the albatross of the 60s or the disabled, that term is not available to us.”

How does Liboiron research pollution and teach environmental science to young people – without despair?

Liboiron spends thirteen weeks of each semester teaching theories of change and how there are several. Part of their job is teaching students “where do we put these little nuggets of information that fly over us, so that we don’t end up under a giant pile of horrible facts?”

The expertise feeds them into a bigger picture, says Liboiron. “It’s not the worst problem we’ve ever had to face, is it. Intergenerationally, we have experienced genocide in action. And, here we are, ”they reflect.

“The big picture is not that we’re all going to die,” says Liboiron. “The big picture has a lot of different moving parts with a lot of inequalities and a lot of different ideas of justice and a lot of different long term survival. *”

In Murphy’s vision of alterlife, “openness to alteration can also describe the potential to become something else, to defend and persist, to recompose relationships with water and land, to become alter-wise. afterwards”.

Liboiron shares, “We have the skills and knowledge to deal with very long term and very serious problems – and to continue to thrive and laugh as part of our lives. “


* Survival is a critical term in Indigenous studies: “Survival is an active sense of presence, the continuity of Indigenous stories, not just a reaction or a name you can survive on. Indigenous survival stories are renouncements of domination, tragedy and victimization. – The theorist of the Anishinaabe culture Gerald Vizenor, in his book of 1999 Manifesting the Manners: Tales of Post-Indian Survival.

Odette Auger, Sagamok Anishnawbek, is a guest in the territories of Klahoose, Homalco and Tla’amin. His journalism can be found at Watershed Sentinel, IndigiNews, the Discourse, APTN, and the Toronto Star, among others.

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