Student Profile: Sharon Foster

Here is the latest installment of ADTSG’s student profiles feature!

These profiles are a way for the ADTSG membership to become acquainted with the next generation of anthropologists of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.  In this vein, each profile will introduce one graduate or undergraduate student to the group by asking him or her a series of questions related to his/her background and career aspirations in this field.

In this installment, we are profiling Sharon Foster, a Ph.D. student from the University of Calgary.

Why did you choose to study anthropology?

I have an eclectic academic and professional background. My previous degrees are in political science, education and psychology, and I have professional experience as a teacher and therapist. Anthropology lends itself to trans and interdisciplinary work since its goal is the study of life and origin. I am of a mixed cultural background – my heritage is European Settler, Romani, and Shawnee Indian and these backgrounds inform my research. Anthropology’s incorporation of self-reflexivity in research aligns with my research approach based in indigenous methodologies where self-location is ongoing in the research process. In addition, social-cultural anthropology offers a wide field for theory and research on identity and belonging which is essential to understanding how individuals both learn and heal. My research interests involve examining healing from western and Indigenous perspectives and so medical anthropology is the appropriate field.

Why are you interested in alcohol, drugs, and tobacco research?

I am interested Indigenous traditional knowledge and plant medicines.  Our elders tell us that all plants can heal but to develop knowledge of this healing, respectful and reciprocal relationship with these plants is essential. The history of colonization includes the control and governmental possession of sacred plants including tobacco operating through laws and other regulatory practices that prohibited ceremonial use. As a result, relationships between indigenous peoples and their sacred plants were disrupted.  My aim in research is to highlight indigenous perspectives of these plants as our oldest relations on earth and to examine the role of relationality in the healing outcomes of plant medicines.

What are your research plans for studying alcohol, drugs, and tobacco?

My research will involve indigenous healers’ experiences with plant medicines which will likely involve traditional medicines such as tobacco.  Given the limited research on Indigenous Traditional Knowledges (ITKs) and integration into mental health and trauma treatment, my research objective is to explore both western and indigenous healers’ experiences of healing.  My research questions are: What are psychiatrists’ and indigenous elders’ experiences of healing (both plant-based and pharmaceutical-derived) ? What role do indigenous traditional plant medicines play in trauma and/or mental wellness treatment?  By exploring healers’ experience with indigenous plant medicines, my research will generate evidence to inform and identify potential community-based traditional indigenous treatment interventions to redress the mental health gap and enhance indigenous peoples’ health and well-being.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I hope to continue to work with indigenous elders and communities to identity community research goals to promote Indigenous plant medicinal knowledge and practices. Through this work, I hope to partner medical professionals with traditional elders to expand common understanding and practices of healing.

If you are an anthropology student and would like to be profiled for the ADTSG website, please contact ADTSG’s Student Liaison, Breanne Casper, at for more information!