2017 Biosphere Research Award Recipient Announced!

Congratulations to chuutsqa Layla Rorick, this year’s recipient of the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s (CBT) Biosphere Research Award. chuutsqa grew up in Hot Springs Cove and, as an advanced adult learner of the Hesquiaht language, has dedicated much of her life to Nuu-chah-nulth (NCN) language revitalization. chuutsqa is a doctoral student at the University of Victoria and her research “aims to collaborate with fluent NCN elders to identify compatible approaches for training a working-age generation of NCN educators,”  and create a land-based NCN language revitalization program in Clayoquot Sound.

This is the third year that the CBT has offered the Biosphere Research Award, a single grant of $20,000. The purpose of the award is to support research within the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region (CSBR) that advances local understanding of conservation challenges within the marine and/or terrestrial ecosystems and helps us to prioritize conservation actions. To be eligible, research must address key species and ecosystems threats and/or address a degrading trend for species or ecosystems of ecological and/or cultural importance. The percentage of fluent NCN language speakers in the CSBR has decreased from 3.1% in 2012 to 1.7% in 2016 (Vital Signs, 2016). Furthermore, the majority of fluent speakers are elders, making the threat of NCN language and culture loss that much more imminent.

In discussing the intrinsic relationship between language and land/place, chuutsqa states, “NCN language and worldview has grown out of a coastal location, and contains environmental markers that tie our language and our daily actions to the land and seascape.” She further explains that, “NCN culture and the biodiversity of the region, cultivated from our ancient system of unique socio-cultural relations on this land and seascape over thousands of years, has been subjected to continuously erosive and targeted threats since the beginning of the relatively recent settler colonial era.”  Therefore, NCN language revitalization is crucial to preserve “culturally based, intrinsically sustainable stewardship principles embedded in NCN language,” and “aligns with the intent of UNESCO biosphere [regions], which are meant to nurture learning places where conservation of biodiversity is embedded in social and economic development.”

The CBT received four high quality applications for this year’s Biosphere Research Award which were reviewed by a Technical Review Committee composed of local experts. According to Dr. Laura Loucks, CBT’s Research Coordinator, “the CBT’s volunteer Research Award Technical Review Committee was very impressed with the high caliber of chuutsqa’s application and the decision to bequeath her with the 2017 CBT Research award was unanimous. One of the outstanding aspects of chuutsqa’s research proposal was her ability to make the link between endangered ecosystems and endangered cultures, explaining how Nuu-chah-nulth language patterns are inherently connected to both. As one Committee member put it, ‘if language is the most endangered element on the west coast, this is the conservation action we need to take’.” The CBT Board of Directors approved the Committee’s recommendation for funding at their June meeting and are equally impressed with chuutsqa’s research proposal.

Photo by Melody Charlie