Simon Fraser University professor Marianne Ignace and husband Ronald Ignace, chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, are being recognized with a Governor General’s Award for Innovation for their decades-long work with Indigenous communities in B.C.
The Ignaces are being lauded for developing a collaborative approach to research involving Indigenous people and communities, one that respects and furthers public understanding of Indigenous peoples’ connection to the land and language.
“Obviously it’s a huge honour to have received this award,” Marianne told KTW.
“When we got the news, we were just elated and just really, really thrilled. It was somewhat unexpected. Really, we were just humbled.”
Their work combines advocating and practising Western scientific knowledge in dialogue with the wisdom and knowledge of past and present elders.
The award recognizes and celebrates outstanding Canadian individuals, teams and organizations that are “trailblazers and creators who contribute to our country’s success, who help shape our future and who inspire the next generation.”
Marianne, a faculty member in SFU’s departments of linguistics and First Nations studies, co-founded, with Ronald, the university’s award-winning Kamloops program in 1988 and co-developed, with colleagues and departments at SFU, the university’s First Nations studies, language proficiency and language courses.
Between 1988 and 2010, more than 400 students graduated from the Kamloops program with SFU credentials in anthropology and sociology, linguistics, First Nations studies and archaeology.
Ronald completed his PhD in anthropology at SFU in 2008. His dissertation, Our Oral Histories are Our Iron Posts: Secwepemc Stories and Historical Consciousness, is a roadmap for his life accomplishments. He has also been the elected chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band for more than 28 years.
The Ignaces co-authored a book, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws, that received the 2018 Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize for outstanding book on British Columbia.
For decades, the Ignaces have both worked with Secwepemc language speakers to record stories and oral histories and have engaged younger generations in re-learning these.
Marianne has also worked with Haida and Sm’algyax speaking elders, creating curricula and resources to enable the transmission of their languages to younger generations.
Since 2013, she has been the director of a project called First Nations Languages in the Twenty-first Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward, a $2.49-million a federal government project grant that brings together 22 Indigenous grassroots partner organizations from 12 languages in B.C., Yukon and Alaska and more than 20 academic co-applicants and collaborators.
The project has seen extensive documentation with Indigenous language elders, developed language learning apps and created innovative digital storage and retrieval systems that are providing First Nations language learning opportunities.
During the past five years, SFU’s First Nations language programs have grown from attracting a few dozen students to more than 300 last fall.
Courses are taught across B.C. and the Yukon in partnership with elders and language experts from 14 First Nations across the province.
The Governor General’s Innovation Awards ceremony will take place in Ottawa on May 29.