Dr. Nancy Turner

The fifth William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource conservation was awarded in November 2008 to Dr. Nancy Turner, an ethnobotanist at the University of Victoria. Dr. Turner is also a Research Associate with the Royal British Columbia Museum. Her area of research encompasses the fields of botany and ecology, most noticeably where they intersect with anthropology, geography, and linguistics. She is interested in the traditional ecological knowledge systems and traditional land and resource management systems of indigenous peoples, particularly in western Canada. She has worked with and learned from First Nations elders and cultural specialists in northwestern North America for nearly 40 years, with a strong record of collaboration with Indigenous communities to help retain and promote their traditional knowledge of plants and habitats, including traditional foods, materials and medicines, as well as language and vocabulary relating to plants and environment.

Born in Berkeley, California, Prof. Turner has spent most of her adult life in Canada. As an undergraduate, she attended the Univ. of Victoria, where she graduated with honors. Her honors thesis, The Ethnobotany of the Coast Salish Indians of Vancouver Island, was published in the journal Economic Botany. She received her Ph.D. in Botany from the Univ. of British Columbia (UBC), again concentrating on the ethnobotany of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia. Her dissertation was entitled Plant Taxonomic Systems and Ethnobotany of Three Contemporary Indian Groups of the Pacific Northwest (Haida, Bella Coola, and Lillooet). During the early 1980s, she was the ethnobotanical advisor to the Nuxalk Food and Nutrition Program, in Bella Coola, BC. From 1986 to 2000, she was an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Botany at UBC. Beginning in 1991, she has held a series of posts on the faculty of the University of Victoria, including her current position as Distinguished Professor in the School of Environmental Studies. She has on two occasions served as the Acting Director of the school.

Prof. Turner has authored or co-authored over 20 books (most recently, Resetting the Kitchen Table – co-edited with Christopher Parrish and Shirley Solberg, Plants of Haida Gwaii, The Earth’s Blanket, “Keeping it Living” – co-edited with Douglas Deur, and Plants of the Gitga’at People – co-edited with Judith Thompson), over 20 book chapters, and numerous other publications, both popular and academic, in the area of ethnobotany, ethnoecology, traditional ecological knowledge, and sustainable resource use in Canada and British Columbia. 

She has received many awards in recognition of her contributions to our understanding of the central role played by plants in past and contemporary aboriginal cultures and languages, and her insights into the way traditional management of plant resources has shaped the landscapes and habitats of western Canada. Among these are the Richard Evans Schultes Award in Ethnobotany from the Healing Forest Conservancy in Washington, DC, the Order of British Columbia, and the Slow Food Award in Biodiversity. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1999.

In 2005, her book, Plants of Haida Gwaii, was awarded Lieutenant Governor’s medal for the best work of historical non-fiction concerning British Columbia. In March 2006, Prof. Turner was awarded the Craigdarroch Gold Medal, the University of Victoria’s top prize for research achievement, and in 2007 she was part of an MCRI team, Coasts Under Stress, that won the Craigdarroch Gold Medal for community based research. She recently received a two-year Killam Fellowship, commencing in January 2008, to develop a book based on her life’s research.