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Marianne and Ronald Ignace have been awarded a Governor General Innovation Award for their decades of collaborative research involving Indigenous people and communities.


Decades of Indigenous collaboration lead to Governor General's Innovation Award

May 13, 2019

SFU professor Marianne Ignace and her husband, Chief Ronald Ignace, have worked with B.C.’s Indigenous communities for decades and today, their work is being recognized with a Governor General’s Award for Innovation.

The Ignaces are being lauded for developing a collaborative approach to research involving Indigenous people and communities, one that “deeply respects and furthers public understanding of Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land and language,” according to a news release to celebrate the award.

Their work successfully combines advocating and practising western scientific knowledge in dialogue with the wisdom and knowledge of past and present elders.

The award recognizes and celebrates outstanding Canadian individuals, teams and organizations that are “trailblazers and creators who contribute to our country’s success, who help shape our future and who inspire the next generation.”

Marianne Ignace, a faculty member in SFU’s departments of Linguistics and First Nations Studies, co-founded (with Ronald Ignace) the university’s award-winning Kamloops program in 1988 and, with colleagues and departments at SFU, co-developed the university’s First Nations Studies department, First Nations language proficiency programs and First Nations language courses.

Between 1988 and 2010, more than 400 students graduated from the Kamloops program with SFU credentials, including certificates, and BA, BGS and BEd degrees in concentrations such areas as anthropology and sociology, linguistics, First Nations studies and archaeology.

Chief Ronald Ignace completed his PhD in anthropology at SFU in 2008. His dissertation, Our Oral Histories are Our Iron Posts: Secwépemc Stories and Historical Consciousness is a roadmap for his life accomplishments. He has also been the elected chief of the Skeetchestn Band for more than 28 years.

The Ignaces wrote a powerful book, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws, which received the 2018 Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize for outstanding book on British Columbia.

For decades, the Ignaces have both worked with Secwepemc language speakers to record stories and oral histories, and have engaged younger generations in re-learning these. Marianne Ignace has also worked with Haida- and Sm’algyax-peaking elders, creating curricula and resources to for transmitting their languages to younger generations.

Since 2013, she has been the director of a project titled First Nations Languages in the Twenty-first Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward,. The $2.49-million SSHRC Partnership Grant Project brings together 22 Indigenous grass-roots partner organizations from 12 languages in B.C., Yukon and Alaska, and more than 20 academic co-applicants and collaborators. Through this project, the SSHRC partnership has carried out extensive documentation with Indigenous language elders, developed language learning apps and created innovative digital storage and retrieval systems that are providing First Nations language-learning opportunities.

Individually and collectively, they have worked through research and leadership on issues of environmental justice and stewardship related to mining, interior B.C. wildfires and Indigenous rights and title. Together, the Ignaces are committed to the collective and individual empowerment of Indigenous peoples through education, using First Nations' knowledge systems, histories, ways of being and learning.  

SFU President's faculty lecturer Marianne Ignace shares three decades of work with First Nations communities in British Columbia and explains why First Nations languages matter.


Over the past five years, SFU’s First Nations language programs have grown from a few dozen students to more than 300 last fall. Courses are taught across B.C. and the Yukon in partnership with Elders and language experts from 14 different First Nations across the province.