Dispatches: Corridor scholars win prestigious scholarships 

Winners now part of network of "public intellectuals"

The Sea to Sky region is not only beautiful, it's also got brains.

Within the last five years, two residents of the Sea to Sky region have managed to win Trudeau Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic scholarships in Canada.

In 2007, Pemberton resident Jason Morris-Jung, 38, won it and now Squamish resident Brent Loken, 40, is the proud recipient of the Trudeau Scholarship, a scholarship awarded every year to 15 Canadian and international PhD students.

Amongst the most coveted awards in Canada, Trudeau Scholarships are granted to social sciences and humanities students whose research examines matters pertinent to Canadians in areas such as the environment, international affairs, responsible citizenship, and human rights and dignity.

Loken, the president of Ethical Expeditions, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) dedicated to conserving the forest in Borneo, Indonesia, said the award set the bar high for him.

"I feel a huge responsibility now," Loken said, "This makes you want to work even harder and prove yourself to be deserving of the honour."

A Trudeau Scholarship provides $180,000 to each scholar over three years. In return, the scholars are expected to contribute, as their research grows, towards informing Canadian public policy.

Loken is a doctoral student in the School of Resource & Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.

But as anyone familiar with Ethical Expeditions will tell you, Loken is far from being an armchair academic. He has taught around the world in Pakistan, Lopaz, Taiwan and Bolivia. In Bolivia, he met his partner, Sheryl Gruber, and it was during a trip to Borneo in 2009 that the couple started their NGO, Ethical Expeditions.

Ethical Expeditions soon evolved into a "field school" which took students to the forests of Borneo to learn about the web of social-economic problems that imperil the forest's bio-diversity.

The region, the traditional territory of the Wehea Dayak community, is home to some of the richest and most diverse tropical forests, but it is being threatened by logging and the burgeoning demand for palm oil.

In 2004, the Wehea Dayak people declared 38,000 hectares of forest to be protected land under their traditional law, but that designation is still not legally recognized.

While the Wehea Dayak community has organized themselves to protect some of the forest for future generations, another nearby community was unable to do so and has sold large tracts of the forest to palm oil plantations.

Teasing apart the difference in these two outcomes - be it cultural, public policy or local governance, will guide some of Brent's doctoral research.

"So two communities almost side by side, (but) two very different outcomes. I'm curious about why that is happening," Loken said.

Loken is also hoping his research will empower the local community as it tries to become more sustainable and resilient to some of the outside forces like palm oil plantations or coal mining companies.

He is also planning to bring some Wehea Deyak chiefs and some other members of the community to the Haida Gwaii native community to learn from their experience in shaping public policy.

The 2007 recipient Jason Morris, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said the scholarship provided him the opportunity to connect with a wide array of experts at all levels. The Foundation has three levels of awards: scholars, who are outstanding doctoral students; fellows, who are mostly academics that the Foundation recognizes for their extraordinary contributions to their fields; and mentors, who are persons that have had distinguished careers in government, academia or the arts.

"Not only were most of these people extremely knowledgeable and brilliant in their respective fields, but they are deeply engaged in trying to create a better world, usually in the terms of more inclusive, more equal and environmentally sustainable (ways)," Morris said.

He is conducting research on a wave of public opposition to bauxite mining projects in the remote highlands of central Vietnam.

"On one level, I am studying the environmental politics of global mining practices and how they reconstitute relations of power in a country like Vietnam, while, on another level, I am also examining how the Vietnamese people have been able to mobilize themselves as a society and demand for their voices to be heard in what is otherwise an authoritarian state," he said.

The foundation, Morris added, has provided him the opportunity to travel from St. John's to Yellowknife and all over the world to Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Cambodia, China and Vietnam for the purposes of research and academic development.

"The foundation's main objective seems to be a project to help build up a network of "public intellectuals" or, in other words, academics and intellectuals whose work engages directly with public policy, local communities and current events," he added. "That's an assumption that cannot always be made about the so-called ivory tower."



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