Salmon research prompts Carleton grad's return to her roots

·2 min read

Like the sockeye salmon she studies, Andrea Reid has gone back to the place it all started — in her case, to her ancestral land, where the recent Carleton University grad is reconnecting with her own Indigenous roots.

Reid recently completed her PhD in biology and has been researching ways to reduce the stress and injury salmon face as they swim to their spawning grounds.

To do so, she's combining the science of her chosen field of fisheries conservation with Indigenous knowledge, interviewing elders and knowledge keepers in 18 First Nations territories on the West Coast.

Reid is a member of the Nisga'a Nation on the British Columbia coast, but grew up on Prince Edward Island.

"[P.E.I. is] about as far as you can get within Canada from this nation. But I grew up on the water and surrounded by fish … fish and water were very much at the centre of my life," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday.

Mikayla Wujec
Mikayla Wujec

Reconnecting with her culture

Now, her interest in salmon and biology has drawn Reid back to the land that her called home before her grandmother was taken to a residential school and her father was swallowed up in the Sixties Scoop.

Reid had been working with fishers in East Africa and the South Pacific, and realized just how much she could learn from her own community.

"I began to reposition this as a way to connect with this part of my culture that I didn't grow up with," she said. "And [as] a way to bring science into this context that I haven't worked before."

Photo taken by Mikayla Wujec
Photo taken by Mikayla Wujec

'Truly incredible creatures'

West Coast salmon stocks have been declining for years, with sockeye salmon at particular risk.

She calls the fish "truly incredible creatures" that sometimes migrate thousands of kilometres to return to their spawning grounds.

"They find their way back exactly to where they were born, and do so by using their noses," she said.

Reid said when she returned to the Nisga'a Nation, the community celebrated her homecoming, just as they did when her father returned before her.

She said interviewing elders about the changes in salmon population was "illuminating" in different ways.

"It was this combination of getting to learn these insights from people who've been living these lives, marked by the fish ... but also who knew a lot about Nisga'a culture, and even my own heritage and family."