$1.25-million grant “dream come true” for renowned ethnobotanist

- Anne MacLaurin

University of Victoria ethnobotanist Nancy Turner has devoted her academic career to researching the pivotal role plant resources play in Aboriginal cultures and languages. She’s won accolades for her work from around the world but a $1.25 million grant from the Quadra Island-based Tula Foundation gives Turner the opportunity to study and conduct research in traditional West Coast Aboriginal territories to strengthen her knowledge even further.


As part of a recent agreement between UVic and the foundation’s Hakai Beach Institute, Turner has been named as the inaugural Hakai Chair in Ethnoecology. The five-year, non-endowed chair will support ongoing research in ethnoecology and traditional knowledge. As the inaugural chair, Turner will shift her focus from teaching to research, allowing her to work extensively with Central Coast Aboriginal communities and graduate students until her retirement. The agreement includes development of research, field studies and teaching opportunities for UVic environmental studies graduate students. The institute’s 215-acre facility is located on Calvert Island on B.C.’s ecologically rich Central Coast

“This is a dream come true for me. It will allow me the time, resources and flexibility I need to be out on the lands and waters of First Nations’ territories with knowledgeable elders and teachers,” says Turner, a distinguished professor with UVic’s School of Environmental Studies. “The grant allows me to deepen my understanding of the Central Coast and its unique ecology while strengthening my relationship with the Heiltsuk Nation.”

Turner is one the most respected and honoured ethnobotanists in the world, specializing in ethnoecological studies with coastal British Columbia Indigenous peoples, particularly on BC’s Central Coast. Ethnoecology is the study of how people understand their environment and their relationship to the ecosystems. Turner’s research and teaching about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and plants and how that relationship influences the landscapes and habitats of Western Canada helped establish UVic as a national leader in ethnoecology and traditional knowledge studies.

“The generosity of the Tula Foundation honours Nancy Turner’s commitment to enhance our knowledge about the deep and significant role that plants play in the culture of Aboriginal peoples,” says UVic President David Turpin. “The agreement also ensures that our students have the opportunity to build on that knowledge, and study and conduct research in a truly spectacular setting.”

“Nancy has been a champion of Aboriginal knowledge and uses it in culturally appropriate and sensitive ways,” says Hilistis band member Pauline Waterfall, a recent recipient of the Order of BC and a member of the Heiltsuk Nation. “I soon learned that I could trust her and openly share with her our traditional knowledge.”

The Tula Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental sustainability, public service, research and teaching. The Hakai Beach Institute is a non-profit organization that is fully funded by the Tula Foundation. Further information: www.tula.org/
Earlier this year, the Tula Foundation provided UVic with a $2.75-million grant to support the Environmental Law and Sustainability Program in the Faculty of Law.

VIDEO: Nancy Turner, Hakai Research Chair


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Keywords: turner, named, hakai, research, chair

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