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Calgary Institute for the Humanities dives into water at 37th annual community forum

Event on May 12 will explore environmental concerns and First Nations’ perspectives on precious water resources

Calgary Institute for the Humanities is hosting its 37th annual seminar to discuss access to water. James Ellis, an English professor at the University of Calgary, is the director of the Calgary Institute for the Humanities. Photo by Riley Brandt

By Jennifer Allford

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12.

The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

“It’s not a standard academic conference that offers insights to a captive audience,” says Ellis. “Instead, it’s meant to be a day-long conversation and exploration, a process of what you might call knowledge engagement or community-based research.”

Distinguished researchers offer interactive look at access to water

The speakers — Michelle Daigle, postdoctoral fellow in geography at University of British Columbia; David Laidlaw, research fellow at the Canadian Institute of Resources Law UCalgary; and Adrian Parr, UNESCO co-chair of Water Access and Sustainability and director of Taft Research Centre at the University of Cincinnati — will present in the morning. Before breaking for lunch, each scholar will pose a question to the audience, which will includes artists, environmentalists and scholars as well as representatives from the City of Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina Nation.

“At lunch, community members debate and discuss the questions posed to their tables,” says Ellis. “After lunch they ask a question back to the speakers that comes out of their conversations, which then acts as the basis for a more wide-ranging conversation in the afternoon.”

The forum will also present Gloire à l’eau, a film by Quebec priest and pioneering filmmaker Albert Tessier. The film was the Canadian entry in a program of amateur cinema that toured the world in 1938; Charles Tepperman, a film scholar and resident fellow at the CIH is researching and reassembling the program.

Recent community forums have tackled environmental humanities

This is the third consecutive year CIH has tackled environmental humanities at its community forum. In 2015, it explored optimism and the environment and in 2016 it looked at human/animal relations in cities. Calgary: City of Animals, a book emerging from last year’s conference that includes essays from speakers, artists, and community activists (including Kimberly Cooper, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ choreographer whose work A New Universe was inspired by insects), will be available at this year’s conference.

Calgary Institute for the Humanities presents Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water Friday, May 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Kahanoff Centre, 105 12th Ave. S.E. For more information check here.