Two University of Lethbridge humanities and social sciences researchers studying vastly different projects will receive support for their work from the Parkland Institute, a not-for profit organization based at the University of Alberta that supports the study of economic, social, cultural and political issues facing Albertans and Canadians.
Dr. Suzanne Lenon (Women and Gender Studies), whose research interests are in the area of law, gender and sexuality, will receive $5,000 to further her research on the complex relationships between gender equality and the recognition of valid foreign polygamous marriages.
Ann Åsfrid Holden, graduate studies Master of Arts candidate in History, takes her research into the Subarctic and Arctic to compare legal policies that affect first Nations and Inuit people in Northern Quebec, and those of the Sami people of her home country of Norway. Both groups were affected by large-scale hydroelectric power developments that changed their land and lifestyles, and the legality of the expropriation of indigenous land for these developments was questionable. She will also receive $5,000 to further her studies.
“Parkland is excited to be able to support the diverse research represented by Dr. Suzanne Lenon and Ann Holden,” said Dr. Trevor Harrison, a U of L sociology researcher and Director of the Parkland Institute.
“Parkland’s emphasis has been, and remains, on research that is academically sound, that is important to the broad public and that dares to push the boundaries of our understanding. Both of these research projects fit that bill.”
Harrison added that though they are very different, both projects deal with legal issues and social policy.
“Dr. Lenon’s work will contribute to the body of knowledge that deals with immigration, polygamy, and gender equality, and how those concepts are intertwined, in an often confusing way, from a policy perspective. Ann Holden’s work will explore and explain how the respective legal systems of Norway and Canada have framed the implementation of hydroelectric projects on indigenous land. Though they are far apart geographically, there are some striking similarities that both parties could gain from knowing more about.”
In Lenon’s case, she is using the recent (2011) Polygamy Reference case in British Columbia as a springboard for discussion, which upholds the prohibition of polygamy in Canada as constitutionally sound. “As in the United States, polygamy is illegal in Canada, but people often immigrate to Canada from a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East where polygamous relationships are, in fact, legal,” Lenon said.
Lenon said that one of the reasons for the continued criminalization polygamous marriages in Canada (and in the West) is that of gender equality.
“The second spouse cannot be legally acknowledged, and has very few, if any, rights if the relationship breaks down. The same challenges apply to people in Canadian polygamous relationships in communities such as Bountiful, BC, where the law applies to the individual who is considered to be legally married, but not to other polygamous spouses. While this law is upheld in the name of gender equality, in these cases the law prevents women from being legally supported if there are problems, and this, ironically, has created gender inequality.”
There is, she says, vigorous debate as to whether continued criminalization of polygamous marriage is a viable public policy strategy to address the complex issues arising from it.
Holden’s work involves a topic that is just as complex, involves a number of inequality elements, and has affected people -- but in a different way.
The development of hyropower projects in both Norway and Canada a few decades ago and 1980scaused more grief for the politicians than they would have expected, because the negative reactions to it was so strong. Both the James Bay Cree, a fishing, hunting, and trapping community in eastern James Bay in Canada, and the reindeer-farming Sami people in Finnmark, Northern Norway argued that they had rights that stemmed from their immemorial usage of the land.
“Historically, land ownership, in the Western meaning of the word, was a foreign concept for both the Sami and the James Bay Cree,” Holden said. “The Norwegian and British legal systems suited a farming culture, and private ownership over land was the most common form of a legal connection to land, although not the only form of legal rights to land. When the Scandinavian legal traditions met the Sami traditions and the James Bay Cree met the English and later French traditions, the needs of both communities were written into the laws - but not equally.”
Holden said that her work will help Indigenous groups learn more about how the laws of land ownership -- and land management -- can apply to current issues where land is disputed, in particular in cases that involve oil, gas and mining exploration in the northern areas of several Canadian provinces and Territories, and also in northern Sweden, where similar activities are taking place.
“In Canada, resource extraction (i.e. mining) on indigenous land happens in several Provinces. In Sweden, civil disobedience that mirrors the actions the Norwegian Sami used in the 1970s and 1980s was used as a tool to put a mining project on traditional Sami reindeer herding ground on the political agenda. These events are taking place right now, and have significant parallels to the challenges I am looking at which took place decades ago. The historical context is important to understand current issues because changes to the law in both the cases I study were consistent with legal traditions in Canada and Norway.”
Ultimately for Harrison, funding projects that stimulate not only public conversation but social change -- and that allow researchers to explore topics of public interest -- is what makes him happy as a researcher and as a representative of the Parkland Institute.
“This is the second year that the Parkland Institute has partnered with the U of L to deliver the scholarships. I want to thank the University of Lethbridge for its tremendous support given to Parkland, in particular for making the awards possible.”
The project period is two years, and the researchers are expected to deliver a final report on their work to the Parkland Institute, which will make their findings public.
Ann Åsfrid Holden, School of Graduate Studies Candidate (History)