PhD candidate Kyle Bobiwash is one of 25 Aboriginal students who received the 2015 Irving K. Barber Aboriginal Student Graduate Award. With the $5,000 renewable award Bobiwash, 31, is free to undertake his doctoral research in pollination at Simon Fraser University without having to worry about working on the side.
“It’s a full-time job,” says Bobiwash, “I’m working at it from 8am to 6pm – they’re full days. It would be difficult to manage my workload and have to work as well.”
Pursuing a PhD in Biology, the focus of Bobiwash’s research is pollination ecology – looking at which native pollinators are important for crop pollination and how pollinator diversity impacts crop yield. By planting wildflowers next to blueberry fields, for example, he examines whether increased floral resources leads to greater native bee pollination and fruit yield as compared to a field with only honeybees.
By understanding the relationships between pollinators and crops, Bobiwash, of the Mississauga First Nation, intends to develop farm systems that are productive and profitable to create opportunities for First Nation communities.
He’s had a love of bees and nature from a young age. “I’ve always been interested in the natural world,” says Bobiwash. “I remember learning about bees on Reading Rainbow when I was really young and being so fascinated.”
Growing up with traditional farming practices, like wildfire burning, taught Bobiwash about the relationship between land and food, and how to manage land in an ecologically sustainable way. Complemented by his interest in beekeeping and his studies, Bobiwash developed a thorough understanding of how biodiversity supports healthy ecosystems and thriving communities.
“Many communities have lost their traditional agriculture practices,” says Bobiwash, “I soon saw the direct benefits that understanding ecology could provide to native species, farmers and communities.”
While a lifelong passion for this work helps him to persevere, Bobiwash admits that it’s not always easy and limited funding available for doctoral studies makes it particularly challenging. “There are definitely times where you start to wonder, is it really worth it?” says Bobiwash.
However, he now shows no sign of letting up.
Once he completes his research, Bobiwash wants to help create sustainable farms on reserves using everything he’s learned. By creating productive and profitable farms, Bobiwash wants to demonstrate the opportunity that First Nations communities have in sustainable agriculture. He wants to incorporate research and academia, jobs, economics, scientists, and accountants to show that agriculture can truly sustain a community.
“It doesn’t matter how hard school is for you,” says Bobiwash, “If you have something that you really love, just keep knocking on those doors – just keep on going. Chip away, chip away, chip away.”
The BC Aboriginal Student Award, established in 2008, supports Aboriginal students pursuing post-secondary education in British Columbia.