FURCA 2022: Undergraduate Research in a Time of Reconciliation

The process of reconciliation is inherently tied to the way we relate to Indigenous peoples. The The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) defines it as being “about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country."

This year, spurred by the national conversation around unmarked mass burials at residential schools, there has been a newfound recognition of the long-overdue need for reconciliation with Indigenous nations in the lands we now call Canada. With this in mind, Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities 2022 (FURCA 2022)’s featured theme is undergraduate research in a time of reconciliation. We caught up with two undergraduate researchers presenting at FURCA under this year’s featured theme, whose projects critically reflect on settler relationships with Indigenous peoples and places.

A smiling woman with long black hair in a brown parka and her dog walking by a stream in a snow-covered coniferous forest
Photo courtesy of Clarissa Gu

Clarissa Gu is in her fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning. She was fortunate to have the opportunity to take many approved and free electives throughout her degree. These classes brought nuanced understandings and challenged her to investigate knowledge outside of her area of expertise. One such course was Indigenous planning, which confronted urban planners’ role as settlers in reconciliation. This research project titled, The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge for Saving Canadian Cities, is part of her journey towards that answer.

Q: How did you get involved in your research?

As the severity of Indigenous issues began to surface over the last year, I became aware of my inadequate knowledge on such an important matter. There is an undeniable intercept between Indigenous Peoples and my area of interest- environmental resilience. My curiosity led me to propose this research as the capstone project for the Certificate in Sustainability.

What was the inspiration behind the research you are doing?

Urban planning can be a powerful tool for social change. Colonialism and urban development have an entangled past that is still unraveling. Many Indigenous issues fall in the spheres of influence of planners. I am learning to understand my role as a settler in reconciliation. One commitment I have is to make room for Indigenous voices. This promise means moving aside during discussions for Indigenous perspectives. The other end of this commitment is what inspired my research. I hope to create more opportunities for Indigenous perspectives by spotlighting their importance in saving our planet.

What are some real-life applications of your research?

I hope that my findings will inspire municipalities to recognize Indigenous knowledge as an essential factor in environmental planning and create more roles to foster knowledge sharing. As stated in my abstract: “Many environmental plans include Indigenous Peoples only as a stakeholder and not as information resources. Experts of western scientific knowledge are hired to construct city plans, while Indigenous Peoples mostly offer their expertise by volunteering to participate during engagement sessions. Urban planners are neglecting a massive breadth of knowledge.”

 A smiling woman with long blonde hair in a yellow plaid scarf, blue coat, glasses, and black toque
Photo courtesy of Juliette Bedard

Juliette Bedard is a fourth-year undergraduate student in her last term of the honours anthropology program at the University of Alberta. She is also completing a Certificate in Archaeology. Juliette has worked closely with Dr. Maggie Spivey-Faulkner, her supervisor, on a thesis addressing the repatriation of Indigenous remains. She hopes to attend graduate school in September to continue her research.

How did you get involved in your research?

During my forensic anthropology class, I noticed the legislation and anthropological methods that address how human remains are treated, processed, and returned were practically non-existent. I feel that Alberta is not making enough of an effort to repatriate any human remains, which has led to an overrepresentation of Indigenous ancestors in our institutions’ collections. I decided to begin research into this topic to see how a change could be made to the currently dismal situation since it was clear that this issue has continually been ignored.

What was the inspiration behind the research you are doing?

My inspiration came from seeing firsthand how large some of the unidentified and unrepatriated human remains collections are in Alberta. I want to use my knowledge to be a part of the solution by helping Indigenous communities reunite with their ancestors. I also have a wonderful set of role models within the anthropology department who strive to produce ethical productive research.

What are some real-life applications of your research?

My research can be used to hold Alberta accountable for its actions. The government can continuously ignore the problem if people are uninformed, so by spreading awareness, we can demand change. Part of my research includes a best practices section that suggests how to begin effective repatriations and move forward towards reconciliation. I hope that we can set new standards as a province and eventually as a country.

Clarissa and Juliette are just two of the many undergraduate researchers presenting. Would you like to learn more about the cutting-edge research your peers are doing here at the UofA? There is no better place to do so than at the Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA) taking place from March 8-11, 2022!

christopher-chanAbout Christopher

Christopher is a final year undergraduate student in the BSc program at the University of Alberta, majoring in Biology and minoring in History. He has been volunteering with the Undergraduate Research Initiative since 2015. Having first-hand experience with some of the benefits of undergraduate research, he is passionate about getting more of his fellow students involved with undergraduate research on campus.