Meet Tad McIlwraith

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Tad joined the ARCBIO project in January 2019, where he provides advice on ethical research practices to scientific researchers working on ARCBIO. He sits on the University of Guelph’s Research Ethics Board and works on oral history projects with First Nations communities in British Columbia.

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Q&A with anthropologist, Dr. Tad McIlwraith

Q: How did you become involved in ARCBIO?

I got a call one day from Alex Borisenko who said he had found me on the University of Guelph website after searching the words “Indigenous hunting”. We set up a meeting over coffee within a few hours and Alex gave me a tour of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. He then asked, “Can you go to the Arctic in December?” I did some light edits on the ARCBIO research program proposal and I guess I passed the test! I didn’t even know anything about DNA barcoding until Alex called. Being in Nunavut and being part of this project is a privilege.

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Q:  What interests you about this project?

What interests me about this project? Lots of things. How do scientists work? I’ve never thought of myself as one. At worst I have a cynical understanding of what it means to be a scientist. I think of information as used in social contexts. I’m interested in how science is done. I’m interested in processes of community engagement, and the connection of science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems, their methodologies and how knowledge systems can be integrated.

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Being in Nunavut and being part of this project is such a privilege

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Q: As an anthropologist, what will your approach be while working with scientists and other collaborators on this project?

I am going to stay out of the way, try not to break anything, listen as much of possible, and make suggestions where I can. I have long seen my role as a fly on the wall. I am interested in helping people tell their stories. They are the experts and they need their voices heard.


Q: What are you most looking forward to about this first ARCBIO trip?

I’m looking forward to the time shared with my team. My great pleasure is getting to hang out with people of all ages. I am looking forward to meeting Inuit peoples and learning about their perspectives. I also want to feel the winter air and see the winter Arctic. It’s cold, but that is part of this wonderful experience.


Q: You came across some interesting documents about Inuit knowledges around invertebrates. Do you want to talk about that?

Yes! I came across a study about Indigenous knowledge and insects and wanted to share it with the ARCBIO team. This paper looked at how insects are connected to Inuit oral tradition. The study talked about the importance of small things, the possibility of transformation, the spiritual nature of insects. There is also an entire volume of the 1914 insects on the Arctic.