Two-Eyed Seeing for a Sustainable Blue Economy

Ralph Eldridge, Indigenous Engagement Lead, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster
Leah Beveridge & Shelley Denny, Two-Eyed Seeing Advisory Committee Members

Canada’s Ocean Economy is experiencing transformative growth. It has never been so essential to balance ocean health and productivity into a single priority, and as we look to sustainability models, we must use both eyes.

A priority for Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is to adopt a “Two-Eyed Seeing” (Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw) approach to bring together Western science with Indigenous Knowledge. To embed this in the Supercluster’s initiatives, an advisory group is currently working on policy and program recommendations to guide ocean activity that better aligns with Indigenous community priorities. Shelley Denny was an early supporter of the advisory group. Denny, Director of Aquatic Research and Stewardship, Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, explains, “Two-Eyed Seeing recognizes the equality of different knowledge and the strengths of knowing through multiple perspectives.”

Two-Eyed Seeing is an inherently different way of considering knowledge because it is based on the concept that there are different ways of seeing the world. “From the Western eye, the world can be divided into compartments (disciplines), work can be divided among experts, and through teamwork, then put together to form a more comprehensive picture of the whole because each individual can dive so much deeper into their area of expertise. But from a (generic) Indigenous eye, you just can’t divide the world, therefore you can’t divide biology from physics,” said Leah Beveridge, advisory group member and PhD candidate at Dalhousie University. “For example; you can’t divide environmental from social from cultural from spiritual from physical; the world is a whole and we are all a part of it, living in it, influencing it, not as outsiders looking down upon it. Two-Eyed seeing asks us to see the world in both ways.”

There is no one Indigenous worldview. There are First Nations (plural), Inuit and Metis, each with its own unique culture and worldview. 

Indigenous Peoples have unique perspectives and relationships with water. Canada’s three oceans have been their homes and have played an important role in sustaining and defining them. Many Indigenous communities have a heightened knowledge of our oceans, the interrelationships between marine species, and their ecosystems.

“Indigenous knowledge must be interpreted through an Indigenous lens, meaning that Indigenous peoples must be partners in the process,” added Beveridge. “As a non-Indigenous person, I have long been struck by the concept of Two-Eyed seeing, but also completely at a loss for how to do it. I am not Indigenous, therefore I don’t have an Indigenous eye, so how can I possibly see-through one?! But then an Elder pointed out to me that I can learn to see the world in a different way. I will not hold Indigenous knowledge, but I can practice looking at the world through a different lens.”

At the Ocean Supercluster, we know fostering collaboration with different ideas, insights, and experiences expands the opportunity for innovation. Incorporating Two-Eyed Seeing is securing new ways to partner with Indigenous communities, breaking down barriers, and aligning commercial and community priorities that contribute to healthy and productive oceans.

As published in a special World Water Day feature in the National Post.

Ralph Eldridge
Indigenous Engagement Lead
Canada’s Ocean Supercluster

Leah Beveridge
Two-Eyed Seeing Advisory Committee Member
PhD Candidate
Dalhousie University

Shelley Denny
Two-Eyed Seeing Advisory Committee Member
Director of Aquatic Research and Stewardship
Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources