Sandra Fox’s research on the effects of colonization on Indigenous identities has been recognized with one of the highest honours a university graduate student in Canada can receive.
On Tuesday, June 1, it was announced the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) student and Salmon Arm Secondary graduate was chosen to receive a Governor General’s Gold Medal for having the most outstanding academic record in a thesis-based graduate program.
Fox, a Master of Arts student, has been pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies. Focused on community engagement, social change and equity, Fox delved into investigating how various factors shape and have shaped the identities of Indigenous peoples, starting with the effects of colonization.
“Originally, it was just us here so there was no need to identify as First Nations,” Fox in a June 1 UBCO media release. “It wasn’t until the settlers came that we began being labelled, so my research looked at how that, the Indian Act, and other social factors have impacted how we view ourselves.”
Fox also looked at colonialism in the education system.
“For good or ill, the system was built on colonial foundations. Just because we’re not going to residential schools anymore doesn’t mean we aren’t attending colonial institutions — we’re told we must speak English or French, we have to leave our hearts and spirits at the door.
“That’s not to say progress isn’t being made, there seems to be a genuine appetite for change, but change takes time.”
Fox’s supervisor, Anthropology Professor Dr. Mike Evans, said the award couldn’t go to a more deserving person, referring to Fox as being deeply thoughtful and reflective about the processes of research and writing.
“Her research is an example of the fine work emerging from contemporary Indigenous studies scholarship,” commented Evans.
After high school, Fox initially enrolled in the sciences but eventually found her passion in anthropology.
According to UBCO, after earning her Bachelor of Arts, Fox began working for local Indigenous organizations, including as an Aboriginal student advisor with the university’s Aboriginal Programs and Services.
“When I worked as an Aboriginal Student Advisor, I was early in my identity journey,” comments Fox in a UBCO biography about her. “Although I was comfortable with who I was as a First Nations person, I didn’t completely understand the historical issues.”
It was during her work as a student advisor that Fox found her path in Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies.
“Fox’s research led to the creation of a series of recommendations for universities, with the aim to better serve Indigenous peoples,” reads the UBCO release. “Those recommendations include the creation of an Indigenous cultural safety orientation for all university students, and increasing the number of designated Indigenous spaces on Canadian university campuses.”
Fox describes her research as a labour of love, and said it was the Indigenous students she partnered with that kept her going until the end.
“They were such a motivator for me,” said Fox. “They gave me their time and vulnerability, so I felt a responsibility to do the research well and ensure their voices were heard.”
Fox said receiving the recognition means a lot, especially to her family.
“Education was used as a tool to take away so much from our people,” said Fox. “Being able to come back and use it as a way to try and heal from that — it’s incredibly empowering.”