Aboriginal Studies might be a young field, but its reputation was enhanced recently when Hugh Brody was appointed Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies at Fraser Valley University in British Columbia.
British-born and Oxford-educated, Brody became the holder of a position that, strange as it may sound, no academic can either seek or apply for.
Brody is the author of nine books, including Maps & Dreams, The Other Side of Eden and Living Arctic.
He has had an association with Canada that goes back to the 1970s, when he studied land use and native treaty land claims, which has seen him working for both the Canadian government and native groups.
He’s also the director of 12 documentary films, the latest of which was the direct fruit of his position at Fraser Valley.
The chair, Brody explains, “gives me access to some resources, but what it does is focus my mind on an issue in Canada. I’m someone who’s always been able to do work in Canada, whether it was funded by the government of Canada when I worked for the government directly, or by aboriginal groups when I worked on land claims research through the years.”
His position at Fraser Valley, which began in 2004, was announced by the Prime Minister’s office when he was awarded the tier one chair, which is funded by the federal government to the tune of $200,000 annually. The awarding of a chair is something that has to begin with the institution, who apply to the government, in the hopes of attracting scholars or, as Brody explains, “encourage people to return to Canada to pursue their work.”
In 1985, Brody co-authored Nineteen Nineteen with Michael Ignatieff, then a much-published academic and now leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. It was a nonfiction screenplay on psycho-analysis that he turned into a movie a year later, starring Colin Firth and Paul Scofield.
His latest film, The Meaning Of Life, is a very different project, about the rehabilitation of Native Canadian convicts at a unique prison in the interior of British Columbia.
Brody says he’s just begun showing The Meaning Of Life to native groups and in prisons, and he hopes that it’ll shed some light on a subject he thinks has been overlooked.
“Aboriginal people are drastically overrepresented in the prison system,” Brody says. “This film gives attention to this fact, how it’s being addressed, and gives aboriginal people a chance to talk about it.”