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Yellowknifer wins national research scholarship

Alix McNaught
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 6, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknifer Julia Christensen is garnering national recognition for her study of homelessness and housing in the North: Homeless in a Homeland.

Christensen recently received one of 15 prestigious Trudeau Foundation Doctoral Scholarships.

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Julia Christensen, shown here during a consultation visit in Inuvik last summer, is the recipient of a 2008 Trudeau Scholarship. - photo courtesy of Julia Christensen

Funded through the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the scholarship consists of up to $200,000 in grants over three to four years.

Christensen applied for the scholarship and was one of six students recommended to the foundation by McGill University.

"This really is a big privilege to be a part of this foundation," she said. "I really hope that the research I do can lead to some changes in that area."

Christensen is completing the second year of her PhD in the geography department at McGill in Montreal.

"I'm looking at the relationship between housing and security," she said. "The project really developed through extensive consultation with relevant community groups in the North."

Christensen is focusing primarily on Yellowknife, Inuvik and Paulatuk, speaking to member groups of the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition, the Inuvik Interagency Committee and the Community Corporation in Paulatuk.

She is also conducting one-on-one interviews with people in those communities who are experiencing homelessness or housing issues and is leading focus group discussions with people similarly affected.

"I'm trying to determine how housing and homelessness relate to each other in a Northern context," said Christensen. "I argue that having housing is the most important factor."

She added that as a basic human need, housing needs to be addressed before focusing on other issues like addiction and education.

"In the North, there is a very recent history of modern housing," she said, adding that rapid social and cultural change have had a significant impact upon housing and homelessness in the North, as well as the recent economic growth.

Born in Yellowknife in 1978, Christensen said she has seen changes in homelessness over the years.

"Since 1999 especially, the proportion of people dealing with these issues has grown."

Referring to people involved with housing and homelessness in Yellowknife, Christensen determined there was a need for more information on the subject.

"I certainly want to do research that's useful to the people," she said.

A graduate of Sir John Franklin high school, Christensen did her undergraduate degree in international relations and geography at the University of British Columbia, followed by a masters in human geography, which she described as the study of humans and their physical environment, at the University of Calgary.

The Trudeau scholarship provides an annual travel allowance that Christensen said will be particularly helpful given the cost of travelling in the North.

"This year's my research year. I've spent about a month in Yellowknife, and I was in Inuvik for two months," she said.

She will be returning to Yellowknife this summer and travelling to Paulatuk in the fall.

Christensen will compile her research in 2009, and return to the three communities for feedback.

In addition to her doctoral work, Christensen is involved in an International Polar Year project. A joint Canadian-Norwegian initiative, the project looks at the impact of oil and gas development on Arctic peoples. Christensen's research focuses upon housing security.

She had also been doing work as a journalist and consultant but said she has put them on the backburner since starting her PhD.

Christensen confirmed her research is going very well.

"The support I've received as a Northern student is huge," she said. "I have been really supported by family and the community of Yellowknife. I see my future continuing to be based in Northern research."