April 12, 2019

Geography grad student chosen as finalist for SSHRC's annual Storytellers award

Suzanne Chew pens winning poem inspired by community connection

The top 25 finalists of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Storytellers contest were announced April 11, and UCalgary’s Suzanne Chew was selected as one of the successful entrants nation-wide.

Chew, a PhD student in the Department of Geography, focused on critical human geography, crafting a poem associated with two Inuit communities. As a key part of this, she shared and iterated the poem in-person with a wide range of community members from Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk in western Nunavut, to ensure their voices were heard and their views fully and accurately represented.

“This poem,” explains Chew, “was inspired by a journal article written by my research supervisor, Professor Chui-Ling Tam, published in The Canadian Geographer, about the dark side of participatory democracy in wildlife stewardship, where some voices are heard more than others.”

Chew took the complex paper and successfully communicated it in a clear, creative and compelling manner. Entitled Notes on a Caribou Hearing - Poem, her work is a reflection of the effects of a changing social and physical climate on a key resource for the people of the North.

“A key part of research is how findings are returned back to the communities who made it possible, in a meaningful way. My hope was that through reflecting these research insights in a poem, respecting the Inuit tradition of oral storytelling, this would reach both hearts and minds,” Chew says.

Through her innovative translation of the research paper and its critical findings into poetic form, Chew was able to shine a spotlight on the importance of authentic communication, environmental stewardship, community building, and connection — both among humans and with the land.

Building community connections

“The research we do in the communities that welcome us, particularly Indigenous communities where we need to tread lightly on land and ice and snow that isn’t ours, is made so much richer and rewarding when these communities are included in our research,” says Chew.

“It’s about building in the time to nurture trusting relationships in the community, with mutual respect for each other and the land."

Chew, whose PhD research explores the questions: how might we come together inclusively when making critical decisions on responding to climate change and how might we work to include diverse and vulnerable voices who are the ones affected by climate impact themselves, says she’s excited to be selected for this prize. “It provides another platform for the voices of the communities we work with to be heard.”

The Storytellers competition challenges participants to tell Canadians about a SSHRC-funded project, using a variety of media; each entrant has 300 words or three minutes in which to complete the task.

The SSHRC Storytellers finalists each receive a cash prize of $3,000; all go on to compete in The Storytellers Showcase at the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, being held this year from June 1 to 7 at the University of British Columbia. Five winners will be selected, who will receive an expense-paid trip for their presentation to be featured at the 2019 SSHRC Impact Awards event.