Language plays a key role in how human beings conceptualize and engage with FEWS. The dominant language in FEWS science (by which we mean the English language and scientific terminology associated with FEWS) determines who participates and, moreover, creates barriers to including FEWS meanings and understandings in Indigenous knowledge systems and practices. Scientists and decision makers who engage individuals and communities can address these barriers by attending to the role of language in determining who participates, how participation occurs, and what forms it takes. In reflecting on our experiences and the insights offered to us by knowledge holders, participants, and existing literature, we discuss three examples meant to examine the role of language in constructing either boundaries or bridges. We start by considering teachings provided in Anishinaabemowin and the worldview it represents as divergent from dominant FEWS science narratives. Anishinaabemowin is focused on relationships, connections, and the autonomy of all beings and the natural world (Noodin 2018), worldviews that are reflected in linguistic patterns that emphasize the concept of building bridges. We also consider the difference between community and stakeholder engagement as terminology that shapes design and practice and the role of metaphor in restricting the framing of problems and potential solutions. These examples are intended to provide opportunities for reflection regarding the role of language in constructing boundaries in FEWS science and the potential for language to instead reflect worldviews that emphasize building bridges, attend to connections and relationships, and integrate diversity and complexity into FEWS engagement.
Engagement and Anishinaabemowin, or how language reflects ontological diversity
Anishinaabemowin is an Algonquian language with several dialects traditionally and still spoken in eastern and central Canada, the Great Lakes region and northern plains of the USA, and as the result of early nineteenth century US removal policies, in the states of Oklahoma and Kansas. According to census data, Anishinaabemowin is currently spoken by an estimated 28,130 speakers in Canada (Statistics Canada 2017) and 8371 in the USA (US Census Bureau 2011). Despite the number of speakers, however, revitalizing Anishinaabemowin is currently a major priority throughout the region (Aanjibimaadizing 2021). According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2010), Anishinaabemowin, including Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, are all currently vulnerable, or endangered, depending on the community. Like many Native and First Nations languages, language has been greatly impacted by forced assimilation policies, including residential school attendance.
The critical status of diverse languages (and thus the impending loss of diverse knowledge systems connected to these place-based languages) is recognized as a global issue: the United Nations has declared 2022–2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (UNESCO 2021). As we use Anishinaabemowin examples to unpack our argument, we also recognize the broader relevance for many language systems, including Indigenous languages: languages reveal and perpetuate worldviews, and the English language dominates science across the globe. When English language speakers enter any linguistically diverse space for engagement, they are imposing particular worldviews that may or may not be inclusive. To enact bridges requires that the concepts used in engagement are translated into linguistically appropriate concepts based on particular place-based ontologies. The English language cannot be representative of the global diverse ontology that exists in reality.
Anishinaabemowin is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words contain many morphemes, or bits of meaning, often built around verbs, and include grammatical marking. One interesting feature of the language is its grammatical noun class system, often called ‘gender’ in other languages, based on animacy. Nouns are either animate or inanimate. Demonstrative pronouns (e.g., ‘this’ and ‘those’) must agree with the noun’s animacy class, as must verbs. Since nouns are often not necessary in sentences, animacy often relies only on the verb. Anishinaabemowin animate nouns include people, animals, and spirits, as well as some natural or ceremonial objects, such as ‘months,’ ‘tobacco,’ ‘pipe,’ ‘kettle,’ ‘gold,’ ‘shell,’ and some plants, especially trees and parts of trees (Black 1969, p. 178). There are many examples of nouns in the animate category without ceremonial significance such as ‘apple,’ ‘car,’ and ‘bread’ in some dialects, and any metal. Although there are nouns for some objects as inanimate, animacy can be specific to place and a people group.
This linguistic framing of a worldview is especially salient to the study of ecology. As an example, Kimmerer, an ecologist and a Potawatomi citizen and learner of Potawatomi, a regional dialect of Anishinaabemowin,Footnote 5 describes her awakening to the power of animacy in the study of Anishinaabemowin Potawatomi verbs:
A bay is a noun only if water is dead. When bay is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained by the word. But the verb wiikegama—to be a bay—releases the water from bondage and lets it live. “To be a bay” holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers. Because it could do otherwise—become a stream or an ocean or a waterfall, and there are verbs for that, too. To be a hill, to be a sandy beach, to be a Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive. Water, land, and even a day, the language a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms (2017: 131).
Through our experiences as knowledge holders and as scientists learning from Anishinaabe knowledge holders through engagement, we have gained insights from Anishinaabemowin that are relevant to engagement practices. In translating between English and Anishinaabemowin, words often lose context and meaning. Terms do not translate easily, and some not at all, and thus fall short of Anishinaabe knowledge and understandings (Noodin 2019a, p. 124). For example, in Anishinaabemowin, the term ‘re-search’ (the combination of ‘re-’ (again), and ‘search’ (to seek for), implies a meaning ‘to seek again/continually’) conveys Indigenous ways of searching—seeking and gathering knowledge from an Indigenous perspective, “journeys of learning, being, and doing,” (Absolon 2012, p. 10) in which the researcher, inquiry, and approach undergo transformation throughout, and as a result of, the journey of searching. The word ‘research’ in Anishinaabemowin is nanda-nisidotawin,Footnote 6 meaning “way of seeking understanding.” The researcher, gaa-nanda-nisidotang, translates to "he/she/theyFootnote 7 who seeks understanding." This reveals that the nature of being a re-searcher extends to a diverse community of knowledge holders, and is inclusive of the teachings passed through the generations of being Anishinaabe. Moreover, Anishinaabemowin includes terms associated with different enactments and embodiments of ‘knowledgeFootnote 8’ as that which is not simply something “known,” but rather has been given; knowledge is a synthesis of Anishinaabe daily practices stemming from Anishinaabe identity, described as a “way of being” (Makoons-Geniusz 2009, p. 11). In short, language reflects diverse ontologies and thus cannot always be translated easily or articulated equitably; language exposes the incommensurable nature of ontologies. Here, we provide selected stories of English terms that expose incongruencies in community engaged FEWs research.
Two of the most common English terms associated with the management and policy of the natural world are “resource” and “environment,” and, until recently, Anishinaabemowin had no single words that easily translated their meanings. Consider this conversation that occurred at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), an eleven-member Tribal Nation intertribal agency in Odanah, WI. The GLIFWC Anishinaabemowin teacher at that time shared a story that reveals important implications for translation and interpretation between different ontologies (see Gagnon 2016 for the full case study on institutional toxic risk practices).
A few years ago… our [GLIFWC] director asked me, “How would you say ‘environmental protection’ in Ojibwa?” So I thought for a moment and began to explain some complications in translating his request. First, for the word “environment,” I’d interpret closest to “natural resources,” but there is no Ojibwa word for “resources,” resource is domination. There is no resource, only ‘source.’ We wouldn’t say “water is a resource,” “you are a resource,” that doesn’t make sense. ‘Sources’ are relational, indicating a relationship. We would say “water is a source;” “you are a source…,” that makes sense. So ‘environmental protection’ would be, Mii wenji-bimaadiziyaan, which means “protecting the source of my life.” Or you could say, wenji-bimaadiziyangFootnote 9 – This is the source of our life.
When asked a follow-up question: “What does this mean in terms of the EPA? How would you say ‘Environmental Protection Agency’ in Anishinaabemowin?” the teacher responded:
Well, ganawendan means ‘protect,’ ‘to look after,’ but based on what the EPA is charged with, I would use a stronger word, I would use ‘guard,’ which is a command, gizhaadan. So, the EPA would be gezhaadaming wenji bimaadiziyang, interpreted as ‘Those who guard the source of our life.’
Language differences are a matter of linguistic forms and semantics. Noun-based languages, such as English, require nouns to describe reality. Concepts like ‘natural resources’ define the static elements of ecology that are useful to human beings. Verb-based languages, such as Anishinaabemowin, require action verbs to describe reality. Thus, phrases like ‘Mii wenji-bimaadiziyaang’ define the active and ongoing processes of why we are alive. Anishinaabemowin expands the context and meaning and often is inclusive of relationships and responsibilities that are not captured in associated English language words. Language definitions, translations, and interpretations are not interchangeable terms but, instead, provide greater understanding of diverse ontologies.
Other examples can be drawn between English words and Anishinaabemowin understandings. In a 2021 virtual talk centered on Justice for the Land, Anishinaabe scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer drew attention to Anishinaabemowin translations of the English word ‘we.’ Anishinaabeg understand both an inclusive (giinawind, we including the listener) and an exclusive (niinawind, we except for the listener) form of we, which have considerable implications for interpreting who is ‘we’ in “We the People” referenced in the US Constitution. In celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day, five Anishinaabe panelists spoke about their work and daily life centered in water protection, social justice, and celebrating Indigenous lands, water, and life. Dr. Margaret Noodin, Anishinaabe scholar and Anishinaabemowin teacher, shared teachings about the English term ‘lake’ and Anishinaabemowin understandings that are lost with translation:
I've told one story often to remind people that we have a different way of thinking when we're using Anishinaabemowin. A good example is we often learn how to say to one another, gizaagi’in, ‘I love you.’ And it's also important to know how to say nizaagi’idiz, because nizaagi’idiz is ‘I love myself,’ and I hope all our youth grow up knowing to love themselves. I think when you have that kind of love for yourself and for others, it allows you to connect to the world and take care of it. A ‘lake’ is zaaga'igan so the zaagi, that idea of zaagi, such as zaagijigaabaw and zaagimok [terms associated with being in relation to a lake], all these words that have zaagi in it means there's an opening. So when we think of the most important thing in our world that centers who we are, the Anishinaabek, we think of the lakes. The big opening on the earth where the water is open to us and connects with the land, that connects with our concept of love. So if you just say ‘love’ in English, it doesn't make you think of a lake, it doesn't make you think of an opening, it doesn't make you think of a way that you form relationships by being open. There's just so many lessons in our language, and if we lose our language, we lose all those lessons.
Consider other ecological concepts such as revitalization, restoration, and reclamation, which link to the Biskaabiiyang research approach (Geniusz 2009, p. 8). Building on an approach first developed by Maori scholars and thinkers (see Smith 1999), Anishinaabe students with the help of elders established the Indigenous Knowledge/ Philosophy Program of the Seven Generations Education Institute in the Treaty Three area, also known as present-day Ontario, Canada. Translating to “returning to ourselves” (Geniusz 2009, p.12), biskaabiiyang may be the most accurate term to explain Anishinaabe ontology related to revitalization, restoration, and reclamation. Genuisz explains that the survival of the Anishinaabe requires that researchers acknowledge their own positionality in research and research environments. Foremost to scholars engaged in the biskaabiiyang research approach is the recognition of the way colonial frameworks and associated languages shape lives and landscapes, especially how we see, think, and have relations with others. Relevant to the primary concern here is to choose approaches, and related languages, that do not reinforce boundaries but instead build bridges with diverse knowledge holders.
Biskaabiiyang methodologies can provide common ground for dialogue and engagement. However, it is crucial to recognize diversity in objectives and priorities for research within Anishinaabe communities and prioritizing Anishinaabe teachings and ways of being to serve the interests of and be meaningful for communities (Geniusz 2009, p. 52). Anishinaabe systems of knowledge are contextual, and ‘returning to ourselves’ is not intended to instruct people to live and be as in history, but instead, return to—or revitalize, restore, and reclaim—an Anishinaabe ontology in the present. In doing so, ways of knowing and being are connected to those of many generations (Geniusz 2009, p. 76–78), building bridges, instead of distinctions, from the past to the present.
In the direct context of FEWS research, specific incongruencies were revealed in this next example concerning FEWS terminology (see Lytle 2021 for the full case study on household FEW consumption). In 2018, a focus group at the first Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference in Baraga, Michigan, highlighted problems in language translations and showcased how colonized knowledge contributed to a research methodology. Prior to focus group dialogue, preliminary themes from initial household interview data from 44 suburban households in the Great Lakes Region were presented. The participating households were primarily white, upper middle class, and interested in the environment. The focus group was asked to compare, contrast, and share their thoughts on the FEWS themes presented. The people participating in the focus group were, based on observational data, more diverse in age, race, and socioeconomic status than the household interview participants. This created a scenario to see how white interpretations of environmental responsibility compared with Indigenous knowledges (see, for example, McGregor et al. 2010). Focus group participants quickly highlighted ‘nexus’ relationships and emphasized holistic understandings that expanded beyond the food, energy, and water nexus to include, for example, human relationships with the more-than-human beings who also rely on the earth for their life and wellbeing. In the initial household interviews, it was common for individuals to prioritize a single resource of the FEW nexus, such as the mother had a strong interest in eating organic while the father always made sure to turn off the lights and the children focused on not running the water while brushing teeth. Ongoing discussions with Anishinaabe participants suggest their engagement with environmentally responsible behaviors incorporates lessons from the wide diversity of Indigenous frames that continue to hold relevance despite centuries of attempts at their erasure. These frameworks bridge balance across FEW sectors and understandings of indirect impacts of consumption.
A powerful theme emerged in the focus group about broad and personal relationships that are embedded in the unique characteristics of Anishinaabemowin, which guide cultural norms. Connecting with the language differences and how Indigenous frames can relate to the nexus thinking, one participant said, “even framing this in terms of resources of water, food, and energy, I think that that word [resource] implies that we are to use it. It sort of erases the necessity to have a relationship with it. And I think that really limits our ability to understand how the systems work, and even have a desire to participate in how they interact in our lives, and what they mean to us.” As previously stated, Anishinaabemowin is a verb-based language. It relies heavily on verbs as descriptors, connecting the subject and direct object of a sentence in a strong relationship. In Anishinaabemowin, it is rarely food, rarely water, rarely energy; instead, things are always in relation, so that it is not “food” but “fish caught from the river,” not “water” but “water carried in a birch bark basket from a stream.” This language builds and supports Indigenous frames of relationships with food, energy, and water, accompanied by cultural norms about the appropriate uses, treatment, and stewardship of those relations.
Verb-based language rather than noun-based language may help to impart social norms and context for healthier relationships among beings on the planet because they more explicitly attend to the reality of relationality among humans, more-than-human beings, and the planet they cooperatively inhabit. Verb-based languages may restrict the aggregation and compression of beings used in provisioning or extractive practices. In the literature of western ontologies, food, energy, and water are accepted as compressed terms, allowing for use of these resources. The dominant ontologies are premised on the stratification of the market and supply chain, allowing capital to be produced as a consequence of lost relationality. Only by having products and meanings changing hands and forms very quickly do humans obscure their responsibilities and accountability to our relations. The dominating system creates profit from poor translations. Yet food is never just food; it is a variety of organisms, from cows to carrots and corn that gave or lost their lives to nourish humans. If food is thought of relationally rather than as commodities whose value is set in dollars, contexts and networks are revealed. Low quality junk food, heavily processed food, and food waste become recognizable as disrespectful to our embeddedness. As described in the focus group, humans get to decide what relationships we foster. Do we build relationships with lawnmowers as we pay for gas and repairs; relationships premised on currency, pride, control, etc.? Or do we build relationships with landscapes, the biotic and abiotic communities that share our home space; relationships premised on intrinsic values, growth, etc.? The morality of our decisions can be recognized by which relationships we invest in, and their destructive or productive impact on other relationships. When designing research, it is important to prioritize engagement with diverse groups and to do so in ways that allow for bridges rather than enacting barriers.
Stakeholder vs community engagement, or how language shapes design and practice
Having provided some teachings from Anishinaabe worldviews as reflected in Anishinaabemowin, we shift to consider other place- and people-based examples in plain English. English is the dominant language in FEWS engagement and language can operate as a dimension of boundary work, the actively but not necessarily conscious ways in which scientists, decision makers, and the institutions of science and decision-making construct boundaries around who gets to participate and whose knowledge counts in science and decision making (Gieryn 1999, p. 1–35). In conducting research that involves engagement or designing opportunities for input for management or decision making, the involvement of either ‘stakeholders’ or ‘communities’ has implications for research design or design of participatory processes. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they denote different potential approaches to engagement and who is to be engaged. For example, in ‘stakeholder engagement’ involving decision making for agricultural land uses, agricultural laborers and urban eaters are not always considered stakeholders, although both are clearly impacted by decisions regarding agricultural land management. While laborers and consumers are part of the wider community of those impacted by agricultural decisions, they are not often represented by stakeholders in engagement processes.
Som Castellano and Mook (2022, forthcoming) also show in their paper within this special issue how including or excluding the language of demographics shape design and practice; published research in the field of agrifood studies that include data from engagement processes rarely report on the demographics of participants in terms of gender and race/ethnicity. When demographics are reported, they reveal that white men continue to be overrepresented in participatory processes. When race/ethnicity is reported, it is often because the engagement processes targeted a particular group, such as Indigenous communities. So, rather than being used to consider whether engagement is creating opportunities for participation among diverse groups, even racial/ethnic categories are being used to create boundaries around who is considered a legitimate participant in particular kinds of engagement processes. As they suggest, even the framing of engagement processes can operate as a boundary object to limit engagement, as researchers make implicit decisions about the relevance of their work for whom as researchers design, and thus implement, their engagement processes.
Southern Idaho exemplifies divergences in perspectives among stakeholders and communities regarding water rights under the doctrine of prior appropriation in the American West (Kliskey et al. 2022, under review). A stakeholder advisory group was developed to support the sustained co-production of knowledges for solutions to water, nutrient, and energy use and re-use. The acknowledgement of the senior and dominant tribal water rights pertaining to the Upper Snake River basin was, in some instances, cast as detrimental to water management under anticipated severe drought conditions. In some quarters of the predominantly Euro-American farming community, any water that was not diverted for irrigation to support the agricultural sector or stored in reservoirs or the aquifer during the off-season was considered wasted. Stakeholders representing the perspective of water rights as a primarily consumptive, economic value supported contradictory management than the Tribal Nations communities, who place emphasis on in-stream benefits of water in support of life-sustaining and biocentric values.
In Puerto Rico, recovering from Hurricane Maria has been an ongoing struggle at the intersection of FEWS. ‘Stakeholders’ in this process include government officials in the US federal government and Puerto Rican government as well as the corporations that dominate public utilities, food production, and the energy sector. However, given that these relationships have been forged in colonialism, the knowledge and needs of local communities are often an afterthought at best (Garcia-Lopez 2018; Stabelin et al. 2022, under review). Effective disaster recovery requires wider community engagement practices. Caras con Causa, a non-profit organization in Puerto Rico that specializes in STEM education and community development, has been a collaborative partner in FEWS projects that enhance the capacity of the local community to generate knowledge—in both Spanish and English—for adults and children. These projects have included maps of crowd-sourced information describing the status of local infrastructure and availability of disaster relief resources and a database of published articles that could support efforts to secure funding for future projects. Frequent consultation and deliberation—in Spanish, English, and widely spoken forms of Spanglish—have afforded Caras considerable control in the design of the research process and the nature of the outcomes (Stabelin et al. 2022, under review).
Defining stakeholders and communities in engagement work can create tensions based on complicated socio-political histories and identities (see Gagnon 2016; Gagnon and Ravindran 2022, under review) as well as divergent ontologies (Schelly et al. 2021). Instead, we advocate for shifting to the language of rights holders and knowledge holders. Rights holders in the context of FEWS engagement include basic human rights of all people as well as the rights of all more-than-human beings who retain inherent rights within a particular landscape or ecological system (Johnston 1976, 2003; Pember 2021). Many times, those who hold these rights are simultaneously the keepers and practitioners of knowledge particular to and connected to responsibilities to place. While the global impact of management decisions implies a cosmopolitan and post-human understanding of rights holders that may not be fully achievable in engagement, the language aids in highlighting the bridges among us. This shift is consistent with our argument, that words matter in both reflecting and reinforcing worldviews. Focusing on rights holders and knowledge holders provides an opportunity for those who use engagement to critically reflect on who is included or excluded from engagement processes and how to be more inclusive and less hierarchical in engagement and decision making. Importantly, rights holders and knowledge holders work to build bridges and enhance diverse engagement.
However, which terms and language are appropriate for engagement will likely depend on the preferences, roles, and expectations of the group engaged. Rather than advocating for a “one-term-fits-all” approach to the language of engagement, researchers and practitioners can adopt culturally responsive approaches in which terms are negotiated in close collaboration with local knowledge partners. With the Anishinaabe, for example, using rights holders can illustrate recognition of treaty negotiated rights retained by the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potawatomi bands in the USA. Using knowledge holders can also demonstrate acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples as the original knowledge holders in a place. For many Indigenous “communities” in the USA and Canada, the preferred term is ‘Nation’ because it indexes the sovereign political status rather than equating the status of the group with other groups who do not have sovereign status in relation to the federal government (see CMTED 2021, p. 13, for an example). For other groups, however, such as Indigenous groups who hold state but not Federal recognition in the USA, the term ‘Nation’ may serve to highlight their liminal status. Similarly, ‘rights-holder’ may alienate individuals who may have descendancy from a group but not citizenship, a situation that is not uncommon for many Indigenous peoples who must choose one Nation out of the many they may descend from for the purposes of official enrollment as a citizen. These examples highlight the need to carefully consider and consult with partners familiar with the engaged group in negotiating language choices particular to places and people groups.
Checking our metaphors, or how language frames problems and solutions
In this section, we consider some of the metaphors and language choices commonly used to describe engagement and collaborative research and decision making. The goal is to illustrate how language itself sets a framing for engagement that determines the bounds of participation and serves to restrain the inclusivity of diverse perspectives and worldviews. These metaphors and the precise language choices of engagement may, we argue, predetermine the ability of engagement to be fully inclusive and thus are also capable of redistributing rather than reinforcing existing power dynamics.
First, consider the liberal use of the metaphor, “A seat at the table.” As a metaphor situated within the context of decision making, it also portrays a particular way of making decisions. But we must ask, where is the ‘table,’ and whose table is it anyway? Who gets to set the table? And the big question, why a table? A seat at the table reflects engagement and decision making as originating in the priorities of decision makers; the table is literally defined/framed. Thus, the table becomes a place for decisions or a place for persuasion only. A seat may be offered by appointment, by invitation, by mandate, by job responsibility/role; if the table belongs to the decision makers and they’ve already set the table, having a seat does not constitute meaningful engagement. In this special issue, Smith et al. (2022, forthcoming) report on an innovative method to enhance participation and improve outcomes using mediated modeling as an engagement tool. Yet there are important considerations regarding both the structure of participation (such as a public meeting, public comment period, or mediated modeling) as well as the language used in engagement that shape who participates and how participation is valued among diverse groups. Furthermore, their work suggests that certain forms of engagement, which are linked to certain vocabularies, operate as boundary objects to shape dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. A modeling exercise may appeal to professional environmental scientists, but a workshop using modeling may operate to exclude participation from those who don’t use the language of modeling to think about problems or their potential solutions. These examples serve as a reminder of the work by Rongerude and Sandoval (2016, chapter 14) who question the very concept of a stakeholder ‘table’ and argue that deliberative processes need to be taken to the ‘street’ where marginalized populations can be offered a voice, a deliberative approach to be inclusive as marginalized groups are frequently neglected in engagement processes as well as writing on/about engagement (Bendsten et al. 2021, p. 7).
The alternative is to prioritize the use of language that describes the co-creation of shared spaces of/for dialogue. In centering dialogue, listening is equitable to speaking, and genuine listening means listening first to understand, and not to respond. It is important to note that when desiring to engage with rural and/or Indigenous communities, ‘street’ may not be the relevant place. The relevant places to engage will be specific to a place and a people group, and this knowledge can only be known by knowing place and the people or by asking the people in a particular place. We argue that offering an ear to listen, rather than a seat to sit or the street to meet, may be a more powerful metaphor for meaningful engagement. Clearly the priority for building bridges, and the more appropriate metaphor, is to offer ears to listen, to be in dialogue no matter the relevant place for engagement.
As with most languages, words in English are made up of smaller parts, called morphemes. In English, the roots of many words come from Latin and Greek, as in the word 'university,' which is a combination of the Latin roots uni 'one,' and veritas, 'truth.' The implied meaning of 'one truth' has clear implications in terms of boundary work, exclusion, and perpetuation of existing structures and relations of power. Similarly, we can consider the implied meanings of the terms 'outreach' and 'inreach.' 'Outreach' implies action emerging from an external agency and directed toward a community. 'Inreach' on the other hand, implies action emerging from within a community, perhaps in collaboration with an external agency, and directed at that communities' members. Though there is no agreed-upon definition of 'in-reach,' only modest research about this term and practice, and no consensus on the purposes of in-reach, ‘inreach’ has been applied to institutional and community-based programs and project-based intervention and prevention strategies in health, education, and social services (e.g., Corsane 2006; Fitzgerald 2000; Yabroff et al. 2001). For these reasons, we have created a working definition of 'inreach' as reaching within ourselves and our community to connect with, relate to, and draw from each other's knowledge systems, skill sets, and cultural practices. We, like previous scholars, advocate for distinctions between inreach and outreach and their integration in research and practice (Fitzgerald 2000, p. 67).
Similarly, when examining the impact of English language terminology and use on engagement within groups, we can also consider the use of ‘knowledge’ in the singular as reflective of a particular worldview. Although some may consider pluralizing 'knowledges' to be invalid grammar, this usage is commonplace within Native American communities and in educational contexts. Pluralizing 'knowledges' entails a shift to considering the validity of multiple knowledge systems, epistemologies, and ways of engaging with the world, which, in turn, reflects the diversity of perspectives and approaches present within both academic, practitioner, and engaged groups. The differences in meaning and perspective implied by the two terms 'knowledge' and 'knowledges' illustrates language usage's potential impacts on successful engagement with group members. In the same vein, the use of ‘non-’ (such as ‘non-scientist’ or ‘non-scientific,’ ‘non-expert,’ ‘non-human,’ ‘non-Indigenous,’ ‘non-Native,’ etc.), as ‘non-’ connotes exclusion and othering, assigning a label denoting what something is not rather than what is or who they are. Using such terms implies a particular “lack of” quality and may imply an assertion of power assuming uniform norms. For example, distinguishing ‘expert’ from ‘non-expert’ implies a lack of expertise rather than a different type of expertise. In considering these examples, our goal is to simply show that language choices matter. Rather, using terms like ‘experts,’ implies respect for diverse expertise that group members bring to collaborative projects. In reflecting and reinforcing understandings of the world, language can operate to construct and reinforce boundaries or to instead build bridges, highlight connections and relationships, and make FEWS engagement more meaningful, inclusive, and impactful.
Language usage changes, and should change, to reflect changing norms. Some terms lose their utility while others change in meaning; sometimes, new terms arise. This is no less true of the language choices that researchers and practitioners make which periodically change to reflect evolving norms in research and practice. Thus, engaging with communities requires attention to, consideration of, and adapting to the language choices and related meanings of groups. A first step in reevaluating language use toward building bridges with and within groups is to reflect on our language choices and the potential tensions and unintended consequences inherent to language and diverse groups. Importantly, step one necessitates humility and curiosity (i.e., do a little homework), and when in doubt, ask. A second step would be deliberate efforts to engage in dialogue while attending to the language usage of others. This can be accomplished in consultation with key community leaders and members, and/or consultants during proposal planning and development, particularly within cooperative negotiations of creating a shared purpose, goals, and protocols for example. At the same time, these negotiations are opportunities to learn each other’s expectations, including the language that facilitates establishing and maintaining good relationships. Much as we would translate the language of a consent form into language accessible to a group, we must also consider translating the often-alienating language of our disciplines into language that connects and respects rather than objectifies and marginalizes.