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Roberta Bondar Fellow Shares Life Experience in the Northwest Territories with Students

Dr. Allice Legat’s lecture kicks off the North at Trent Lecture Series

Dr. Allice Legat, Trent University's Roberta Bondar Fellow 2012-2014
Dr. Allice Legat, Trent University's Roberta Bondar Fellow 2012-2014

Dr. Steven E. Franklin, Trent University president and vice-chancellor, welcomed Trent’s third Roberta Bondar fellow, Dr. Allice Legat to the community, and officially opened the North at Trent Lecture Series on January 18, 2012 in Bagnani Hall at Traill College.

Dr. Legat shared stories of her nearly two decades of living and working in the Northwest Territories with the crowded room of students, faculty and community members. Her talk entitled “Tłıcho Dene Monitoring the Land,” discussed how the Tłıcho people maintain their traditional knowledge systems and ways of being, while honouring the mandates of the boards, agencies and governments in the Tłıcho Land Claim and Self-government Agreement.

Dr. Legat explained that place and identity are very strongly connected for the Tłıcho. “People grow from their places,” she said. “Human beings belong to places and these places need to be respected.” According to Dr. Legat, the Tłıcho people recognize the assistance that scientists and researchers can offer in monitoring the heath of their land, but feel that scientists are “too removed from the land and do not know it and do not work it”.

In an attempt to satisfy these two very different approaches, the Tłıcho Elders created a land monitoring process that would facilitate both the preservation of the Tłıcho knowledge stystem and the government surveying of the land. Researchers, including Dr. Allice Legat, were invited into the Tłıcho community to participate in the development of this monitoring process and to document its development.

The monitoring process invites young Tłıcho people to travel the land with a harvester, tracking caribou. They then return and share their observations with Elders, who refer to the harvesters for confirmation of the story. The young people are then invited to listen to the Elders weave the observations into a story that will be passed down, demonstrating how Tłıcho knowledge is created and maintained.

The Elders have determined that this process will help them to recognize changes in the health and life of the caribou, while also preserving their language and knowledge systems. While this process is still in development, it has been officially recognized by the government as a recommended caribou monitoring process.

Dr. Legat has worked with Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories for over two decades. Her work questions some of the assumptions that lie behind the distinction between universality and particularity in thinking about knowledge and caring for the land. She recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen. She will spend the next two years on furthering her research while teaching an undergraduate course at Trent University.

The Roberta Bondar Fellowship in Northern and Polar Studies is a postdoctoral teaching and research award. The fellowship is intended to bring a northern scholar to Trent for the period of two academic years. The fellowship named in honour of Dr. Roberta Bondar, renowned space scientist, neurologist, astronaut and former Trent University chancellor, is intended to foster interest in Northern Studies at Trent, and is based in the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies.

Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

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