World expert on traditional plant use wins national fellowship

Social Sciences

Ethnobotanist and ethnoecologist Nancy Turner—a long-time champion of Indigenous traditional knowledge who has spent more than four decades exploring the human relationship to our natural environment—is today announced as one of five 2015 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellows. This national honour is in recognition of her career-long devotion to understanding and communicating the crucial role that plants play in Indigenous cultures and languages, especially with respect to land rights and ancestral territories.

Video of Dr. Turner (courtesy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation):

Turner, a professor in the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies and the Hakai Research Chair in Ethnoecology at UVic, is one of the most respected ethnobotanists in the world and specializes in ethnoecological studies with Western Canadian Indigenous peoples particularly on BC’s central coast.

“I am very excited to be joining such an interesting and dynamic group as represented by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows,” says Turner. “Already, we have been able to share ideas and perspectives about many pressing policy issues that cross-cut several disciplines. I feel deeply honoured to be chosen to be a part of this wonderful team of scholars.”

Ethnoecology is the study of how people understand their environment and relationship to ecosystems. Turner began collaborating with First Nations people more than 45 years ago to document and promote their traditional knowledge of plants, including foods and medicines. Her 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 and international leader of ethnoecology and traditional knowledge studies.

“Dr. Turner is a person of deep integrity, social commitment, and eloquence, who has combined scholarship at the highest level with public education, far-reaching contributions to the policy process, and the promotion of dialogue among governments, the public and First Nations peoples,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels.

As part of her fellowship project, Turner has proposed a two- to three-day symposium (in spring 2017) for interested Indigenous leaders and knowledge holders, legal scholars, ethnobotanists, ethnoecologists and students to discuss the roles of ethnobotany and ethnoecology in policy and legal decision-making in Aboriginal land title. She hopes the symposium will have the potential to assist in deliberations around land rights and title for Indigenous peoples.

“My research legacy has been to weave together ethnographic descriptions of human plant relationships within a broader framework of Indigenous cultural landscapes and resource management systems that reflect the deep and enduring relationships between First Nations and their territories,” adds Turner.

She is the fourth UVic professor to be honoured with a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship. The awards are made by an independent jury of researchers and intellectuals and support the winners as they pursue the next stages of their academic research. Turner will receive $225,000 over the next three years.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation fellowships were established in 2003 to support scholars who have demonstrated the capacity to propose creative solutions to important issues and to encourage initiatives and projects that might not necessarily receive support through traditional funding mechanisms.

For more information, visit

To download the 2015 Trudeau Fellow photos (please credit: Kandise Brown/Trudeau Foundation): Jocelyn Downie, Bessma Momani, Cleo Paskal, René Provost, Nancy Turner.

The 2015 Trudeau Fellows are in Montréal today.

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Keywords: plants, environmental studies, Hakai, Indigenous, award

People: Nancy Turner

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