2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship winners: Spencer Greening and Derrick O'Keefe

February 14, 2018

Each year, SFU selects two Aboriginal graduate students to receive Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarships. The scholarship for master’s degree studies is worth up to $30,000 over two years, while the scholarship for PhD studies is worth up to $54,000 over three years.

The scholarships were established in 2013 by the Office of the Vice-President, Academic to encourage Aboriginal students to consider graduate studies and, ultimately, a career in post-secondary education.

Candidates must have Aboriginal ancestry, a minimum grade point average of 3.5 out of a possible 4.33, and have demonstrated outstanding achievement,

Derrick O'Keefe

By Megan Balog

A committed social activist and proponent of independent media, Derrick O’Keefe is pursuing a master’s degree in communication focused on public interest journalism and the role this type of media plays in covering climate change and ecological crisis.

O’Keefe, a member of the the B.C. Métis Nation with Red River ancestry, already has an extensive background in advocacy journalism. He has written prolifically on a broad variety of topics surrounding social, environmental and political justice, ranging from community to international issues.

His first effort at founding new independent media was Seven Oaks Magazine, an online journal named after the site of one of the most historic battles in Métis history.

In 2014, he co-founded the online independent media platform, Ricochet Media. Created in response to insufficient coverage of the 2012 student strikes in Quebec, this 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 organization in Metro Vancouver that advocates for peace. As well, he published a number of pieces on Canada’s role in international conflicts. Among his many publications, O’Keefe co-authored Afghan political activist and parliamentarian Malalai Joya’s memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice (2009).

For his master’s project O’Keefe is researching the merits of various crowdfunding strategies as best practice for funding independent media. He is also investigating the ways in which independent media can move people to act regarding the global climate emergency.

“As a ‘mature’ student, with two kids and a full roster of activist commitments, this award will help me take time for my research and scholarship,” O’Keefe says. “Having practised independent media for more than 15 years, I’m relishing the chance to study and reflect.”

O’Keefe holds bachelor’s degrees in geography and in education, both from the University of British Columbia.

Spencer Greening

By Megan Balog

Spencer Greening is passionate about his Aboriginal heritage, and wants to preserve, protect and promote his heritage at home and beyond.

A member of the Gitga’at First Nation, a Tsimshian tribe on B.C.’s Northwest Coast, he has worked with his community both personally and professionally for years. He was the band’s youngest elected councilor, and also served as a research coordinator and an environmental assessment coordinator.

Now a PhD student in archaeology, he is researching the Gitga’at language (Sm'algyax), local ecological history, and ways of managing the environment based on Gitga’at stories and ethnography. He says his doctoral work will help to protect one of the community’s sacred watersheds, Laxgalts’ap (Old Town). It will also strengthen the community’s land rights and promote cultural stewardship within the territory.

Greening says his doctoral project also represents important decolonizing work in the face of industry interests and a colonial government structure. As he strives to strengthen his community’s land rights, he hopes to create a research framework that other nations can use in their own decolonizing work.

During his master’s studies at the University of Northern British Columbia, Greening helped his community navigate a judicial review on Indigenous consultation rights, and developed strong abilities in the Sm’algyax language by working with Tsimshian Elders. He continues to work toward acquiring language fluency.

Greening’s doctoral supervisor, SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky, says: “Spencer is poised to make a real difference in his community and in other Indigenous communities. He is just the kind of person we want to welcome and support in our SFU community.”

Says Greening,  “The end vision for this project is for my community to have something to be proud of. Without them and the teachings they have passed down to me, I would not be in this privileged position. I hope my work benefits future generations, and will bring awareness both within the community and outside of the community to recognize the importance of these types of places.”