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Photo of the Yukon River during the summer. // Photo courtesy of Pixaby.

Q&A with UCalgary’s first Trudeau Scholar in 15 years

By Jen Sidorova, August 4 2020 —

Kelsey Pennanen from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology is the University of Calgary’s first Trudeau Scholar in 15 years. She is also the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Canada Graduate Scholarship, an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship and an Eyes High Doctoral Recruitment Scholarship.

Awarded by the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, the Trudeau Scholarship helps train exceptional doctoral candidates to become engaged and creative leaders in their communities. To be named a Trudeau Scholar, a student must demonstrate research that aligns with the Trudeau Foundation’s four themes: Human Rights and Dignity, Responsible Citizenship, Canada and the World and People and their Natural Environment.

The Gauntlet: How does it feel to be the first UCalgary Trudeau scholar in fifteen years?

Kelsey Pennanen: I feel very honoured and humbled. To receive this award is an amazing opportunity. I, like most people, suffer from imposter syndrome, therefore I didn’t have expectations to receive the scholarship. I am grateful for the award as now the objectives that I have for this project are able to become reality. 

G: What is your research about?

KP: My research is focused on mountainous ice patches in the Arctic, near Whitehorse, Yukon. These ice patches were used seasonally for caribou hunting, and as climate change is having a significant impact on these ice patch landscapes, surveys conducted in the area are revealing well-preserved evidence of these activities, year after year. I am planning to use digital technologies to create 3D visualizations of the landscape and incorporate other datasets such as ecological knowledge to combine into a 3D stacked-knowledge database. This will then be transformed for use in virtual knowledge-sharing. 

G: How are you going to document Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)?

KP: Actually, I am not planning to document Indigenous knowledge. I want to provide a platform for Indigenous communities in which to house their knowledge. Communities have ownership rights of this database and associated information. I want to provide a different way of sharing and mapping landscapes, so that they can be used for teaching, outreach or for community records as a baseline from which to monitor change.

Photo of Kelsey Pennanen in the field on Northern Baffin Island in 2018. // Photo courtesy of Kelsey Pennanen.

G: What was the most challenging thing for you during the application process?

KP: Uncertainty. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the interview stage for the Trudeau scholarship. It was intimidating when I was selected. The interview was held in Montreal. It was my first time in Quebec, and I am not very comfortable with French, adding to my intimidation. I was nervous because of the rumors I had read online about the interview process from past applicants. Thankfully, the process had changed in recent years, and I was met with a diverse and friendly interview committee, allowing me to feel much more relaxed, and leading to an overall good experience.

G: What motivated you to apply? 

KP: There are four themes the Trudeau Foundation is centered upon. My research seemed to be a good fit for at least two of these themes. I an investigating how Canadians can understand and interpret the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and how we can decolonize historical pedagogy to foster responsible citizenship. My application was focused on these themes. My supervisor and graduate program director also encouraged me to apply. I think this scholarship celebrates reconciliation and dialogue. Trudeau is a very hands-on scholarship. It provides training in leadership and prepares a new generation of Canadian leaders. 

G: My last question is bit informal: What are you seeing out your window right now? 

KP: I am sitting on the porch of the cabin I am renting to self-isolate in on a corner of Marsh Lake in the Yukon. The pines are reaching up into the blue sky. Beside me is a pile of stacked firewood, and a fresh cup of coffee. Being in the Yukon, you can really feel the history of the place. Walking around you can hear the stories from the landscape, and you can begin to understand how powerful that is. 


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