Northerners win environmental research awards

Born in Inuvik and raised in Yellowknife, Jessica Norris says being from the North “definitely influenced” her decision to go into environment conservation. Now her work is being recognized. 

Norris, a master’s student in natural resource science at McGill University, is among this year’s recipients of the Weston Family Awards in Northern Research

“The North is changing so drastically. I feel like as a northerner and as a researcher … it’s super important for me to be involved and to continue to advocate for the North and advocate for the species,” Norris told Cabin Radio. 


“It’s super close to my heart and exactly where I want to be.”

Jessica Norris, master’s student at McGill University, is a winner of the 2021 Weston Family Awards in Northern Research. Photo: Submitted

Her research is focused on an expanding population of reintroduced muskoxen in the Yukon North Slope. 

The research will combine collected data, harvest information, and traditional knowledge to try to determine what’s driving the population growth, which is leading to concern about habitat overlap between muskox and caribou. 

Norris lived in the NWT until 2015, when she relocated to Whitehorse to finish her degree. 

“My main focus was to find a project that would allow me to study within the North, and specifically within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region,” said Norris.  


“It’s still the North, I’m still feeling like I’m really connected. And this project will allow me to further connect my interest as an Inuvialuit beneficiary, but also as a researcher.”

Research on Arctic permafrost

Erika Hille, director of the Western Arctic Research Centre in Inuvik and a Queen’s University PhD candidate, received a Weston Family Award for her research on the impacts of permafrost thaw on freshwater systems in the Beaufort Delta.


“I’m looking at a series of streams and rivers that sit within different geological and geographical contexts in the western Canadian Arctic,” she said.

“What I’m doing is looking at how differences in terrain, terrain features, and permafrost conditions influence the water quality of streams and rivers, and seeing if there’s a way to characterize the response of streams and rivers to changes in permafrost conditions.”

The award is accompanied by a $50,000 prize, which Hille said will aid her research but also help on a personal level – she can take a step back from working full-time to spend time with her children and on her schooling.

Hille has been working with Aurora College’s Aurora Research Institute for 10 years and started her PhD in 2019. In 2020, Hille won a $10,000 Polar Northern Resident Scholarship for her research.

She’s now spending some of the summer doing fieldwork – something not all northern researchers have been able to do over the past year, due to the pandemic.

“It’s definitely a great privilege to be able to go out and still collect data,” she said.

“I can understand the challenges a lot of southern researchers are going through, not being able to come up to field sites – certainly for some of the older researchers that have been visiting for decades.”