The Okanagan School of Education is pleased to share that Dr. Roísín Seifert has joined the School as a postdoctoral researcher —the School’s first postdoc!
Working with Dr. Bill Cohen, assistant professor, Seifert will be engaging in a community driven research initiative known as YEEHAH — Youth, Elders, Ecology, Horses And Health. YEEHAH, in partnership with the En’owkin Centre, will be working with the seven Syilx communities of the Okanagan Nation Alliance to start a program that connects youth with horses, elders and the land. The project is still in its early stages and is taking shape as community connections are formed.
Seifert acknowledges that while Indigenous horse based cultural wellness program aren’t a new concept, this is the first movement to formalize and study the effects of such a program in the Thompson Okanagan.
Seifert hopes to collaborate with community researchers and local individuals, and play a supportive role in bridging the gap between cultural movements and research processes.
“It’s really a privilege to be working on this initiative,” says Seifert.
They are excited about their involvement with UBCO as they appreciate being part of an institution that is actively striving to address colonialism. The university’s dedication to progress aligns with their own values and fuels their passion for making a difference. While acknowledging their position as a settler, Seifert remains committed to decolonization and supporting indigenous initiatives.
Seifert’s position is funded by Mitacs, a nonprofit national research organization that supports academics in bringing innovative projects, learn more about Mitacs at mitacs.ca.
It was a love for horses that inspired Seifert to pursue a career in academia. Growing up in Ireland, America and England, they started off riding neighbors farm ponies then moving up to working for horse riding lessons at age 11, and the passion has continued to grow. So much so, that Seifert’s doctoral thesis explored the roles of horses in contemporary Native American culture.
“I hadn’t intended on pursuing my PhD, but when I was offered funding to study Indigenous horse culture it was too good of an opportunity to pass up,” says Seifert. “I was delighted to receive three years of funding!”
Their research topic had had almost nothing written about it since 1955. Even then, the research was limited as it was looking at the history of what people used to do.
“I was very naïve. Having not lived in North America as an adult, I didn’t have an understanding of the settler colonial context. I showed up in the community, which is absolutely not how you should approach community research,” they say. “I fortunately found families in the community that were passionate about horses, and embraced me and the research.”
Their research focused on what is now referred to as the Nez Perce, Umatilla and Colville Tribes in the United States. They spent 14 months living, researching, collaborating and working with their hosts, and their horses.
“One thing that came out of my PhD research was that I noticed a shift from horses being partners in everyday life to being partners in cultural continuity, revitalization and even healing in some cases,” they say. “I was starting to see programs popping up in the communities where people were starting different types of more formal horse programs in addition to the informal programs put together on an adhoc basis by community members. I noticed it was a more formal way that horses were becoming almost accomplices in cultural resurgence.”
Since that time, Seifert had been on the lookout for ways to support these emerging horse programs. While they were seeking the right opportunity, they spent time working as an Indigenous liaison in National Parks throughout Canada, a wildfire fighter, researcher with the Resilience Research Institute, and anthropology instructor.
“After hearing elders constantly reiterating the importance of being on the land, I took a career break from office-focused academic work and decided to find roles where I could be in nature instead,” they say. “There was some overlap, and at one point I was teaching classes at Selkirk College, online, while working in wildfire mitigation full-time. It was a little hectic, but it worked out.”
It wasn’t until a few years later that Seifert, while speaking with Dr. Mike Evans, Professor, Anthropology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Science, was connected to Dr. Bill Cohen who had been hoping to develop a horse program for some time, and out of this meeting came the project now known as YEEHAH.