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Robin P. Armstrong Prize

Each year, the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG) awards one Canadian graduate student with the Robin P. Armstrong Memorial Prize for Excellence in Native Studies. This award recognizes and promotes excellence in applied research on Canada's Aboriginal peoples. Established in 2002, it commemorates the contributions made by Robin P. Armstrong to research on Aboriginal issues within the government of Canada and the CAG. The prize is made possible by a fund established in Robin's memory with donations from the Armstrong family, individuals who wished to commemorate Robin in this way, the Department of Indian Affairs, and Statistics Canada. The specifics of the award are listed below in addition to a description of the most recent recipients.

Funding Agency: Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG), Statistics Canada, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC)

Title of Award: Robin P. Armstrong Memorial Prize for Excellence in Indigenous Studies

Number of Awards: 1 annually

Value: $1,000 CAN (Please note: this award also provides the recipient with an opportunity to present a paper during a special Indigenous Peoples Working Group session at the CAG conference (or one of the regional CAG conferences), in addition to a nation-wide publication of the winner's name on the Statistics Canada and CAG Web sites)

Eligibility: All students who, during the current or previous two calendar years, have completed Master's or PhD thesis in First Nations/Indigenous Studies or Geography on research related to First Nations/Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples in Canada may apply.

Geographic Focus: The focus of the doctoral or master's research must be a Canadian aboriginal topic from the perspective of geography or native studies.

Duration: The recipient will hold the title for one year.

Deadline: January 15

Application Format: Application submitted by mail to Dr. Monica E. Mulrennan, Concordia University, at monica.mulrennan@concordia.ca according to guidelines and requirements available on the CAG website

Website: http://www.cag-acg.ca/en/robin_p_armstrong_award.html

Recent Recipients

2012 Recipient

2012 Armstrong Recipient: Chris Turner

Chris Turner, PhD Student, Natural Resources and Environmental Studies | University of Northern BC

M.A. Thesis: “Overlap”: Causes and Implications of Contested Indigenous Claims to Territory in the Context of the British Columbia Treaty Process

Chris has been working in the field of natural resource management for almost twenty years, most of which focused on research and land use planning projects with emphasis on First Nations issues. Through his work experience he came to recognize what he identified as profound lack of understanding in some circles concerning indigenous territoriality, and how this had profound implications for our ability to recognize and account for indigenous rights and interests in land management and allocation processes, including treaty negotiation.

Chris explains that it was intellectual curiosity and his desire to contribute to the goals of respecting and accommodating indigenous rights and interests that led him to graduate studies.  He completed his undergraduate degree part-time through Thomson Rivers University, where he focused on GIS for professional development and human geography and land use planning out of interest. It is at that time that he met his MA supervisor and current Ph.D co-supervisor, Dr. Gail Fondahl. Chris’ idea for his MA thesis came out of his work experience, but it was Dr. Fondahl who encouraged him to pursue graduate studies (by dani holland). He explains that the experience and knowledge he has gained through his work experience in the areas of treaty negotiation and land use planning brings a pragmatic dimension to his research.  

His MA research concerned indigenous territoriality, law, and contemporary treaty negotiation in BC, focusing on a set of contentions issues related to what most people call “overlapping claims”.  With his project, he set out to address two related questions concerning overlapping indigenous claims: 1) does the Crown’s practice of negotiating treaties with multiple indigenous groups in areas of contested territorial claims privilege some indigenous groups to the detriment of others?; and 2) are overlapping claims a barrier to the ethical settlement of treaties, and if so what can and should be the role of the Crown in effecting reconciliation of contested territorial claims in the context of treaty negotiation in BC?  As he asserts in his thesis, his findings have contributed to enhancing our understanding of the issue of overlapping claims as “symptomatic of broader contestations concerning the meaning of boundaries, the ontology of space, and competing visions for the actualization, through treaty negotiation, of indigeneity.”  He further argues in his thesis for the parties to the BC treaty process to purposefully engage with the issue of overlapping claims and identifies a number of potential strategies for working through the issue: 1) empowering indigenous institutions; 2) increasing the authority of the BC treaty commission; and 3) employing a quasi judicial institution to mediate and, where required, adjudicate issues related to contested claims.  

Chris is currently a doctoral candidate in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies at the University of Northern BC, under the co-supervision of political Scientist Dr. Michael Murphy and geographer Dr. Gail Fondahl. Building on is MA research, his current research concerns the potential of a bi-cultural quasi-judicial institution to, among other things, research and hear evidence concerning claims and, where required, to mediate or adjudicate territorial disputes. He says that one of the fascinating aspects of this realm of inquiry is the notion of legal pluralism - the idea that through such a bi-cultural institution we might learn more about indigenous legal orders and thus the common law of Canada.   He argues that this is part of decolonizing land management. His hope is that his research contributes to a better understanding of indigenous territoriality, the promise of legal pluralism, and lays some of the groundwork for a bi-cultural institution that recognizes and respects indigenous ways of knowing land and ultimately supports the reconciliation of interests.

Interview edited by Véronique Bussières,Ph.D.  candidate, Dept of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, January 2012

2011 Recipient

2011 Armstrong Recipient: Zoe Dalton

 Zoe Dalton, University of Toronto 

M.A. Thesis: “As We Move Ahead Together: Foregrounding Reconciliation and Renewed First Nations/non-Aboriginal Relations in Environmental Management and Research - An Examination of the Species at Risk Conservation and Recovery Scenario in Southwestern Ontario".

2010 Recipient

Nathan J. Bennett

Throughout his life, Nathan Bennett has taken a keen interest in nature and human relationships with it. Nathan was raised in Cranbrook, a small, resource-based community adjacent to the Rocky Mountains in the southeast corner of British Columbia. Lifelong experiences exploring the natural world and wilderness areas have continued to influence his academic career. Working as a leader, guide, teacher, development worker, and researcher in rural communities from Latin America to northern Canada has enabled Nathan to pursue his interests in sustainable development, conservation, collaborative processes, and education. His contributions in these fields are numerous and continue to grow.

A Bachelor of Education from the University of Victoria (2002) led to his early involvement as an instructor in a number of sustainability, leadership, and conservation-focused educational programs throughout British Columbia. Nathan spent the years following his first degree working with Sea to Sky School for Sustainability Education, the Wilderness Education Program, The Sunshine Coast Alternative School, Youth Challenge International, Canadian International Development Agency, and operating his own company.

Nathan went on to receive a Master of Environmental Studies in Nature Based Recreation and Tourism from Lakehead University (2009). His Master's thesis focused on community development related to the creation of a national park in the traditional territory of the Łutsël K'e Dene First Nation on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories. The goals of this project were to explore local erceptions of the potential of the national park to contribute to broader development goals in Łutsël K'e and to examine ways of building local capacity to achieve desired outcomes. The results of Nathan's work have made an important contribution to the ongoing dialogue around the creation of the national park. As the park unfolds, it is hoped that his research will support ongoing social, cultural, political, economic development efforts within the community.

Nathan is currently pursuing a PhD in Geography at the University of Victoria. The focus of his research is on the relationships between biodiversity, local livelihoods, and climate change in marine protected areas on the Andaman Coast of Thailand. Through this research, Nathan hopes to speak to the importance of supporting the dual and interconnected agendas of biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction that play key roles in today's changing world. Throughout his academic career, Nathan has received numerous accolades, distinctions, and awards for his outstanding contributions, and the Armstrong Award has a special place among these. For Nathan, the Armstrong Award's significance lies in that it "recognizes the importance of collaborative and community-driven research processes in an indigenous context".

Nathan currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia, where he enjoys spending time with his family and pursuing wilderness adventure.

Interview with Nathan conducted by Andra Syvanen, M.Sc candidate, Dept of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, May 2010

2009 Recipient

2009 Armstrong Recipient: Claude Peloquin

Claude Peloquin, University of Manitoba

M.Sc. Thesis: "Variability, change and continuity in social-ecological systems:  insights from James Bay Cree cultural ecology".

At the end of his bachelor’s degree studies in Geography at McGill University, Claude Peloquin became involved with a research project on ecological conservation involving the Cree Nation of Wemindji, in Eastern James Bay. He continued that involvement through his Master's degree in Natural Resource Management, at the University of Manitoba. Building on previous work on ecological knowledge and management, the thesis examined how Wemindji hunters understand and adapt to variability and change in hunting. Many hunters had been speaking of decline in catches of migratory geese during the Fall and Spring coastal goose hunt, even though biologists were reporting all-time high estimates of these same populations. Hunters explained this decline in goose catches as resulting from interactions among numerous patterns and events, ranging from the biophysical to the socio-economic. This includes changes in vegetation cover, post-glacial land uplift, changing temperatures and weather, all of which interacted in ways that affect both when and where geese choose to travel and land to feed and rest. These patterns were also observed to have an incidence on hunters' access these sites, which is also transformed by changes in Cree society. All of these make the customary practices of rotating goose-hunting sites according to wind direction and other variables (which usually diffuse hunting pressure across diverse flocks) are more difficult to follow. The geese respond by not landing or "staying around" at the historic coastal sites. The main insight of the study is a more nuanced understanding of hunter's ecological knowledge as a dynamic, "non-deterministic" and collective assessment of the complex relationships between myriad processes, social and ecological. It also examined how that understanding shaped their responses to changing conditions. Some of the responses include the creation of new goose-hunting sites along the James Bay Highway, using gravel pits and similar clearings in the forest.
Claude is now living in the Sonoran Desert, pursuing a PhD at the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His dissertation research looks at how national and international agencies collaborate to prevent swarms of Desert Locust from feeding on and destroying agricultural crops throughout northern and western Africa. Combining science and technology studies with political ecology, the work looks at the relationship between state power, ecological management, and international development. More precisely, it follows the flows of expertise, money, and pesticides that link France and Mali as they seek to prevent locust swarms. While this project seems far removed from goose-hunting in James Bay, it has actually much in common, including the concern about the legacy of colonialism in shaping, framing, and representing ecological management and its relation to development politics.

Interview edited by Véronique Bussières,Ph.D.  candidate, Dept of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, January 2012

 

 

 

© 2010 Indigenous Geography