2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship Winner: Derrick O'Keefe
By Megan Balog
Derrick O’Keefe is a recipient of the 2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship. He is pursuing a master’s degree in communication under the supervision of Shane Gunster. His master’s project will focus on public interest journalism and the role that this type of media plays in covering climate change and ecological crisis.
A committed social activist and proponent of independent media, Derrick O’Keefe enters Simon Fraser University (SFU) with an extensive background in advocacy journalism across many platforms. He has written prolifically on a broad variety of topics surrounding social, environmental and political justice, ranging in scale from community-level to international issues. According to Gregory Albo, a political science professor at York University, “There are few people in Canada who have such an extensive record in independent journalism across all the most significant outlets.”
As part of his master’s studies, O’Keefe will examine the merits of various crowdfunding strategies as best practice to fund independent media. He will also investigate the ways in which certain forms of independent media can move people to act regarding the global climate emergency.
Enda Brophy, a professor in SFU’s School of Communication, met O’Keefe in the context of a social solidarity movement and describes him as “a thoughtful observer of the political scene”, noting that he “is highly respected within social movements in [Vancouver].”
O’Keefe is a member of the B.C. Métis Nation with Red River ancestry, and his first effort at founding new independent media was Seven Oaks Magazine. This independent online journal was named after the site of one of the most historic battles in Métis history.
While working as an editor and freelance journalist for Rabble.ca, O’Keefe frequently explored the dynamics of activism movements and provided insight into power structures and misuses of social and political power. In response to insufficient coverage of the 2012 student strikes in Quebec, he co-founded the online independent media platform, Ricochet Media. Operating out of Vancouver and Montreal, this new bilingual outlet strives to provide critical coverage of contemporary events in the Canadian political landscape.
A noted anti-war activist, O’Keefe chaired the StopWar Coalition, a broad-based peace organization in the Lower Mainland, and has published a number of pieces on Canada’s role in international conflicts. Among his many publications, O’Keefe co-authored Malalai Joya’s memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice (2009), detailing her time as a politician and political activist in Afghanistan.
O’Keefe’s master’s project is informed by his history in the world of advocacy journalism and activism. However, his background also includes teaching, and he enters SFU with a bachelor’s degree in geography and a bachelor’s in education, both from the University of British Columbia.
The Aboriginal Graduate Entrance Scholarship will help support O’Keefe in his academic pursuits at SFU. Given his interdisciplinary background and extensive experience in the field, there is little doubt that he will be able to produce a strong, critical project over the course of his studies.
“He is intimately acquainted with the independent media scene in Canada and internationally, and deeply committed to its prospects”, says Brophy. “He’ll be one of those students who will require very little supervision, and his work will be of high quality.”