The Changing Landscape of Northern Scholarship

Recipients of the ACUNS Awards Program Embrace Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science

The work produced by this year’s award recipients not only upholds Indigenous-led collaborative research principles, but also applies innovative and sustainable practices that demonstrate their commitment to northern communities. Congratulations to the following recipients!

Madelaine Bourdages

PhD, Geography
Carleton University

Sources, transport, and fate of microplastic pollution along the Mackenzie River from Great Slave Lake to the southern Beaufort Sea, Northwest Territories

Ms. Bourdages demonstrated how her innovative project is relevant to northern challenges or issues. There are very few freshwater and microplastics studies to date globally, and even fewer in the Arctic. Her project fills a huge data gap on microplastics concentration and type, identified by several community and regional groups as a research priority. The outcome of her research will provide novel insights into the concentrations, potential sources, transport pathways, and fate of microplastics throughout the largest Canadian Arctic freshwater system. Ms. Bourdages is working directly and collaboratively with several communities in the Northwest Territories and her study will be co-produced with the community.


Dr. Weston Blake Jr. Memorial Doctoral Scholarship ($5,000)

Funded by the Blake family

Kethra Campbell-Heaton

PhD, Geography
University of Ottawa

Hydrological investigation of the effects of permafrost thaw to High Arctic watersheds, a case study from Eureka Sound Lowlands, Nunavut

Ms. Campbell-Heaton’s research will provide valuable water quality and quantity data to high-Arctic communities to mitigate the effects of permafrost thaw on local water supply. The methods used in this project will benefit future infrastructure development projects on icy permafrost terrain.

This new award is named for the late quaternary geologist who spent over 50 Arctic seasons in Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard, Norway and whose career was spent almost entirely at the Geological Survey of Canada.


The Dr. Jim McDonald Scholarship for Northern Research ($5,000)

Funded by ACUNS with the support of the McDonald family.

Rowenna Gryba

PhD, Interdisciplinary Studies (Geography/Statistics)
University of British Columbia

Bridging Indigenous Knowledge and western science to better understand animal behaviour and habitat use in the Arctic

Ms. Gryba grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon. It was her early experience working closely with Indigenous hunters and knowledge holders in Alaskan communities that inspired her project: the decolonization of science. Using three ice seals species (ringed, bearded, and spotted seals), Ms. Gryba will document and translate Indigenous Knowledge that can be incorporated into animal habitat and movement models. Throughout the process, the methods and results will be verified by Indigenous hunters who are also co-authors on her paper. This award is named in memory of Dr. Jim McDonald, a renowned anthropologist, professor, and former president of ACUNS.


Gunther Abrahamson Caribou Research and Management Award ($5,000)

Funded by the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB)

Galen Richardson

MSc, Geography
University of Ottawa

Classification of lichen percent coverage in Sentinel-2 imagery using multi-scaled AI methodologies

Mapping lichen availability, which is a primary food source of caribou, is critical for understanding the changing habitat for caribou in Northern Canada, and for sustainable land management. Using neural networks, drone data, and satellite imagery, the primary goal of Mr. Richardson’s project is to develop a workflow for creating lichen coverage maps of the Labrador-Quebec region. The long-range goal would be to create lichen maps, an opensource mapping application in Google Earth Engine, over all barren-ground caribou ranges. This web application would be shared with caribou management authorities, community organizations focused on caribou conservation, and policy makers to better inform decisions about the changing caribou habitat.

2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the ACUNS Awards Program, originally known as the Canadian Northern Studies Trust. Our awards program has changed over the years but our reputation for robust adjudicating and our commitment to supporting students and early-career researchers remains steadfast. In 40 years, ACUNS has helped over 700 students and early-career northern researchers reach their academic goals. To learn more about our past recipients, please see our Annual Reports, found on our Members page.