Kathleen Matari

Walking In Two Worlds, Fishing the Same Waters: Kathleen Matari Bridges Knowledge Systems in the North

“I grew up knowing two different ways of living. I learned my traditional cultural lifestyle here. But I also knew that there was a big wide world beyond here,” reflects Kathleen Matari, better known as Kate Snow in her region. Her work as a research technician led her to understand both better. 

Having worked in her field for eight years, she’s passionate about bridging scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge as two different and equal ways of knowing. “There are two sets of knowledge. If we have experts from the scientific side, working with the experts who studied the land in the waters from birth up until now, you're going to have a really well rounded study,” she explains. 

She lives in her hometown of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and works for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans as a technician. Her father came to their community as a scientific researcher and married her mother who lived in a nearby town.

Growing up, her parents insisted she and her brother attend university; stopping at high school graduation wasn’t an option. That worked for Matari because she wanted a Bachelor's degree. She knew she wasn’t cut out to be a tradesperson, and office work didn’t excite her. She tried studying Nursing for a semester before deciding that she could not be in charge of someone else’s life. 

Studying biology and learning about the Bible in Florida was her next adventure.  She had grown up longing to travel but became deeply homesick, calling her mom every day. Matari wasn’t used to living somewhere where she didn’t know everyone and she was tempted to quit. She didn’t want homesickness to be the reason she quit, so she made friends with other students who were far from home.

Illustration by Shaikara David

By the end, she loved it so much it was hard to leave.  What she learned about people there was “some of us are from totally different countries and things like that, but you have a lot more in common than you think you do.” She loved meeting people from all over the world and teaching others about her culture and where she’s from. 

Matari graduated with a Bachelors of Science in natural sciences, with an emphasis in biology, before going into work in marine sciences. She came to the end of what was possible for her financially and professionally as a research assistant and knew she needed more education. 

Matari went on to get a Master's in Management and Leadership. She didn’t move away, instead studying online. She found it was easy to get distracted at home, and she needed more support. After receiving support from Aurora College, she studied at the library to create distance between her studies and the rest of her life. 

Matari worked hard and graduated. She prayed over what to do with these credentials. She ultimately found her current job, an important role which uses all the skills she’s gained and lets her learn from those who have spent a lifetime on the land and water.  

In the work she does now, Matari loves to translate between the science and local communities. Meeting with local people is mandatory to undertake research and to help things along, Matari learns about the scope of the researchers' work in the region, so she can explain it in plain language to her community. Similarly, she is able to bring back the wisdom of the respective communities to researchers and share it in a way that they can understand. 

Working together, the community and researchers gather information about the fish in the area, cooperating to reach their own goals. “I really like that we're not working in silos,” she smiles, but at the same time, she acknowledges that this approach is both more work and a better way to benefit people who use fish every day. With extra communication, logistics, and contracts, it’s a more involved process, but it paints a better picture of what’s going on so everybody wins. 

When she’s not working, she boats and camps in the summer and goes for walks in the winter. She found early on that she needed good work-life balance to come back to her work refreshed. With long days dictated by the weather and nature itself, she had a hard time taking care of herself at first. Her family revived their bush camp just outside of town, with no cell service, electricity or running water, forcing her to disconnect and heal. She found more balance as she did less field work and she didn’t have to go to camp as often to recover.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    Ontario
  • Date
    August 7, 2023
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