Research plants seed for Indigenous food sovereignty

Student competes in Oxford Global Challenge

Second year Bachelor of Science ― Environmental Science student Braden Etzerza is on his way to the U.K. to compete in the Oxford Global Challenge 2017. As one of just two Canadian representatives who won among 10 participating teams, his research addresses food insecurity issues for Indigenous Peoples.

Braden Etzerza

Braden Etzerza tends to plants in the Mount Royal University greenhouse.

Etzerza says, "The goal of my research is to help Indigenous People support their own food security, with the added benefit of self-determination in guiding their futures."

Of Tsimshian, Tahltan heritage and European descent, Etzerza grew up in Prince Rupert, BC. There he witnessed the challenges people in his home community of the Metlakatla Nation and other coastal communities face accessing healthy food.

One of Etzerza's main research goals is to highlight the need to create gardening spaces for urban Indigenous People. He is planting the seeds for start-up community growing spaces, first in Calgary and then a framework to implement across Canada.

These community growing spaces serve many purposes, including to honour the rich history of Indigenous People, support a diet with a greater variety of fruits and vegetables and be a place where Indigenous People can go to heal, connect and learn more about their heritage.

Patti Derbyshire, professor and chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Social Innovation, is working with Etzerza to implement research opportunities that further enhance his learning experience. Derbyshire says Etzerza quickly understood how he could take his interest in environmental science and his concerns for his community to make an impact right away.

"Through a lot of hard work, he's made progress on both local and global projects, addressing intersections for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and applying critical knowledge from the classroom to research that will matter for the next seven generations," says Derbyshire.

"We are very excited about Braden's focus on prosperity crops for neighbour nations throughout Canada and their practical impact on Indigenous food security, the emerging fibre economy, and on job growth that supports Indigenous designers in Canada."

Etzerza was connected with Derbyshire through an instructor teaching him an entrepreneurship class. He says the way faculties, departments and institutions work together at Mount Royal provides more prospects for students.

"Sciences are connected with business, entrepreneurship and social innovation," says Etzerza. "Mount Royal is a place where plenty of opportunities exist if you put in the work."

Along with collaboration across areas, Etzerza appreciates the University's commitment to indigenization. In his first year, he accessed the Aboriginal Education Program to help raise his marks so he could get into his program of choice. With the Aboriginal Science and Technology Education Program, available to support Indigenous students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Computer Information Systems, Etzerza is on track to meet his goals, aspiring to add a minor concentrating on social innovation.

"I would say, especially to Indigenous students, don't be scared to follow your passion," he says, admitting that he was a little nervous about entering sciences as a field.

As a matter of fact, Etzerza originally backed down from his first-choice program because of fear. But with a strong support network at the Iniskim Centre, program mentors and faculty, he realized science was where he belonged.

"If there was anything I could say about attending this University to a potential student, it would be to tell them about the volunteer opportunities, the connections, the welcoming environment and the supportive faculties and staff at MRU," says Etzerza.

April 27 2017 ― Arlene Ridgeway