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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 8 | Sep. 2, 2004

Harvard-Educated Native American Scholar Joins UBC Forestry

By Brian Lin

There are simply too few Aboriginal people employed in the forestry sector in B.C., especially considering that more than 80 per cent of Canada’s First Nations are located on forest land, according to Ron Trosper, the latest faculty member of Forest Resource Management in the Faculty of Forestry.

Of more than 3,000 registered professional foresters in B.C., only 12 of them, or 0.4 per cent, are of Aboriginal ancestry.

Armed with a PhD from Harvard and the experience of founding the Native American Forestry Program at Northern Arizona University, Trosper, of Salish and Kootenai ancestry, is determined to change that. As an associate professor of aboriginal forestry he will participate in developing the faculty’s Aboriginal Forestry Program.

“This is an exciting academic focus for the faculty,” says dean Jack Saddler.

And a prudent one. Prior to 1994, only three Aboriginal students were known to have graduated from the faculty. Since then, 22 have completed their studies, including some at the master’s and PhD level.

“There is an urgent need to increase the role of Aboriginal people in managing and caring for the land,” says Trosper. “Recent court decisions are indicating that huge changes are in store in Aboriginal participation in forestry, yet there are still many barriers to Aboriginal students who wish to pursue post-secondary education.”

One of Trosper’s main goals will be increasing university-level research with First Nations communities, without losing sight of proper research protocols that respect traditional culture and practical needs.

“There is a long history of dispossession in how the industry and researchers have worked with Aboriginal people,” says Trosper. “It’s important to realize that First Nations people don’t reject advances in technology and science -- in fact, they embrace them -- but there’s a very different way in which they see the world.

“The forest is surrounded in a social context, and to Aboriginal people, it’s obvious that living in, modifying and taking care of the forest are one and the same. You can’t manage the forest without getting to know the people.”

Trosper has hit the ground running since he arrived in Vancouver in July. He and Saddler have already travelled up to Haida Gwaii off B.C.’s northwest coast to meet with community leaders, government officials and industry representatives.

When asked what attracted him to UBC, he pointed to the strong graduate program at the faculty. He wants to see more Aboriginal people pursue advanced degrees so there is a “permanent presence” of Aboriginal people in academia.

“There is great potential for UBC to be a leader in Aboriginal forestry education,” he says.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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