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SFU Trudeau scholarship winner links heritage, traditional knowledge to environmental stewardship

June 21, 2018
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By Stacey Makortoff

Spencer Greening has a gift for balancing traditional Indigenous knowledge, research, language and culture with Western scholarship, politics and activism.

This gift has drawn the attention of his Gitga’at First Nation, Simon Fraser University and most recently, the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation.

“It is rare to find someone who can be a role model and take on leadership roles in both Indigenous and Western arenas,” notes Arnold Clifton, chief councillor and hereditary chief of the Gitga’at First Nation.

This remarkable ability has landed the archaeology PhD student one of 15 prestigious Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholarships. These scholarships are offered to “exceptional students who have distinguished themselves through academic excellence and civic engagement” from selected universities around the world.

Greening’s research project, Al’algyax Laxyuubs Gitk’a’ata (The Territory of the Gitga’at Speaks): Language, Place-based Knowledge, and Environmental Stewardship in the Heart of Gitga’at Territory, will utilize both ethnography and Indigenous methodology to assist in knowledge transfer and language revitalization in the Tsimshian tribe of the Gitga’at First Nation, located on the Northwest Coast of BC.

“This methodology is based on the ancestral teachings, laws, protocols, and pedagogical process that come from the territory of the Gitga’at,” notes Greening. “This research adds to a global discussion on the protection of bio-cultural diversity, the revitalization of language and cultural connections, and Indigenous rights and title.

“Indigenous environmental knowledge, Indigenous language, and the sharing of place-based knowledge are linked to heritage preservation, identity, and sustainable resource and environmental management. This environmental knowledge, should be at the forefront of law, policy, and environmental awareness.”

Greening’s supervisor, Dana Lepofsky, is excited for him to work with the Trudeau Foundation.

“Through the Trudeau network, Spencer will be part of a supportive, intelligent community of researchers who are thinking outside of the box. This is exactly where Spencer should be situated.

Because of his unique perspective as an Indigenous scholar, activist, and learner, Spencer will have much to contribute to these conversations and will take much away from them.”

Awarded the 2017 Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship, Greening came to SFU from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), where the foundation for his current research stems from his undergraduate and master’s work.

As with all his research, Greening aims to continue to give back to the legacy of his community and influence positive change in his own community as well as other Indigenous communities.

“As a member of the Gitga’at First Nation, Spencer Greening has become a valuable member to our community and vision,” says Clifton. “Spencer as demonstrated true leadership in the community by being outspoken about and working hard towards achieving Gitga’at’s core values of greater governance authority coupled with his commitment to sound science that support’s sustainability in our Territory and throughout Coastal BC.

“He has proven to be a true role-model not only for the Gitga’at but for all people he has touched through his community work.”

About the scholarships:

“Over their three-year doctoral scholarship, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholars work with an engaged and inspiring community of fellows, mentors, and other scholars who support their professional growth.

Scholars’ annual scholarship package includes an annual travel and networking allowance that facilitates scholars’ fieldwork and helps them organize and participate in research initiatives, conferences, and Foundation events.

Since the program’s inception in 2003, the Foundation has awarded 232 scholarships for an investment of nearly $24 million in Canada’s intellectual leadership.

The call for applications for the 2019 scholarship competition will open in the fall of 2018.”

2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Press Release