I learned about a concept called the third space in my PhD. Coined by Homi Bhabha, the third space, as originally conceived, is a meeting or transition space between post-colonial Power relations and everyday practices. This has been adapted in a number of other contexts. One of these adaptations has been used to describe the position of many Indigenous communities in North America (Brunyeel as cited in Lowan-Trudeau, 2017). Energy transition projects in Indigenous communities are an interesting example of this concept.
There are a number of projects, particularly in the province of British Columbia where Indigenous communities have set up renewable energy projects. One of the challenges to this is that it violates a systemic racist view that Indigenous culture must exist in the past, that Indigenous cultures cannot engage with contemporary Canadian and American systems while also controling their own territory and drawing on traditional knowledge systems. In other words, Indigenous communities have created a third space where they engage with North American systems to set up renewable energy projects AND maintain and revitalize their traditional cultures.
Sadly, this idea that Indigenous cultures need to be in the past and they cannot maintain those cultures while also participating in North American systems like renewable energy is not surprising. We want to be able to put things in boxes with well defined boundaries and the third space challenges those boundaries. But these are boundaries that need to be challenged. We need Indigenous perspectives and guidance to move renewable energy towards approaches that value land, people, non-human animals, rather than the bottom line. This is an opportunity to embrace complexity.
Lowan-Trudeau (2017) points to these projects as an opportunity to develop science, technology, and engineering knowledges across cultural divides, ie in the third space. This is how I come back to the subject of my blog: connecting with science.
Science isn’t the only subject that we need to combat climate change or achieve sustainability, but science is required. And we need that science to be used within the third space. Projects like the ones discussed by Lowan-Trudeau can help us engage and more towards sustainability together.