Seeding the Future

Jill and Dr. John Innes. Photo: Martin Dee
Jill and Dr. John Innes. Photo: Martin Dee

As Dean of the Faculty of Forestry, Dr. John Innes has dedicated his career to advancing sustainable forest management practices. He is a big proponent for working with Aboriginal communities on forestry issues and has dedicated considerable energy to this area. However, it was simply the desire to create a more equitable society that inspired John and Jill Innes to make a generous estate gift to enhance the recently established John and Jill Innes Aboriginal Award in Forestry.

“When travelling in Australia, we’d seen the Aboriginal populations facing similar challenges,” explains Jill. “Although we weren’t in a position to do anything at the time, we thought we could do something now.”

John and Jill, from Scotland and England respectively, met in Switzerland in 1992 and moved to Canada in 1999. They travelled extensively together, experiencing many different cultures. It was while Down Under that they first noticed how Aboriginal populations were often marginalized and pushed to the edges, a trend they noted occurs in many other countries around the world—including Canada.

“We both realized our Aboriginal students seem to be particularly disadvantaged,” says John. “As an educator, I think it’s incumbent upon us to remove those challenges—to make it as easy as possible for anyone to study at UBC.”

Since becoming Dean in 2010, John has worked tirelessly to foster engagement with indigenous groups. There are more professors focused on this area, and coursework includes an increasingly diverse range of projects in collaboration with First Nations communities.

“Today, there is greater recognition of what constitutes fairness and equality in our society. We anticipate more and more land in Canada being returned to indigenous groups. As this happens, it will become imperative to foster relationships and work even more closely with these communities.”
For example, the Faculty is taking a leadership role in collaboration with Applied Science and the Sauder School of Business to establish a group of experts who will be available as a resource for First Nations communities.

“The objective is to conduct research and outreach for groups who want help with resource management and development,” explains John. “Right now there’s a lack of capacity and huge demand for decision-making. We want to build that capacity, and accessible education is key.”

The John and Jill Innes Aboriginal Award in Forestry will be offered to Aboriginal students in the undergraduate program. Preference will be given to those who demonstrate leadership, and the awards are renewable for up to three years, provided the student remains in good academic standing. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” says Jill, who adds that she hopes the gift inspires others to do the
same and leads to even greater opportunities for Aboriginal students.

“This award demonstrates a level of commitment to the direction we’re taking within the Faculty,” states John. “And I think that’s important.”