2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship Winner: Spencer Greening
By Megan Balog
Spencer Greening is a recipient of the 2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship. He is pursing PhD studies in archaeology under the supervision of Dana Lepofsky, and plans to use this award to build on previous heritage projects centered on Laxgalts’ap (Old Town), a sacred watershed area in his home territory of the Gitga’at First Nation.
Greening’s doctoral research will explore the Tsimshian language (Sm'algyax), Oral and ecological history, and ways of managing the environment as they are nested in the stories and ethnography of Gitga’at territory. Within this project, he will work to protect the sacred area of Laxgalts’ap and strengthen the community’s land rights, as well as to promote cultural stewardship within the territory.
“The end vision for this project is for my community to have something to be proud of,” says Greening. “Without them, and the teachings they have passed down to me, I would not be in this privileged position. … I hope my work benefits the future generations, and can bring awareness both within the community and outside of the community to recognize the importance of these types of places.”
Greening’s master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies as well as his bachelor’s degree in First Nations studies and history from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) have provided the foundation for his current research.
His doctoral project represents important decolonizing work in the face of industrial interests and a colonial government structure. As he strives to strengthen his community’s land rights, Greening hopes to create an Indigenous research framework that can be used by other nations in their own decolonizing work.
“Spencer is definitely the right person to tackle this very important topic,” says Antonia Mills, a professor in First Nations studies who taught Greening at UNBC. She describes him as a respected member of his community, and speaks highly of “the wisdom and respect [he] has for his peoples' traditional ways and wisdom”. As further testament to his leadership and commitment to community affairs, he was elected as the youngest-ever Band Councillor for the Gitga’at First Nation in 2015.
During his master’s studies, Greening helped his community navigate a legal case on consultation and Indigenous rights, and developed strong abilities in the Sm’algyax language through conversation with Gitk’a’ata Elders. With decreasing numbers of Sm’algyax speakers, Spencer is working toward the vitally important undertaking of language fluency during his doctoral studies.
It is easy to see that Greening has what it takes to make strong contributions to his community and his field of study. According to Dana Lepofsky, an archaeology professor at SFU and Greening’s doctoral supervisor, “Spencer is poised to make a real difference in his community and in other Indigenous communities” and is “just the kind of person we want to welcome and support in our SFU community.”
The Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship is helping him to continue his valuable work.
“It is an honour to have SFU give legitimacy to and believe in my work”, says Greening. “This sort of recognition can’t help but to inspire oneself to continue to do decolonial work. Too often in our day-to-day relations with Canada, our knowledge, rights, and title are not recognized. I am lucky that I am of a generation where institutions are now opening doors for Indigenous people to represent themselves.”
“’La’goot,’ Spencer Greening is from the Gitga’at First Nation of the Tsimshian people of the Northwest Coast. He has worked with his community both personally and professionally for years and has acted as an Elected Councillor, Research Coordinator, and Environmental Assessment Coordinator. His particular research interests are Tsimshian language and culture, Indigenous governance systems, and ethnography. As of September 2017, he is a fulltime PhD candidate studying at Simon Fraser University.”