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Ryan, Joan

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Ryan, Joan

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Joan Ryan (1932-2005) was a professor of anthropology at the University of Calgary from 1967-1987. She was born in Montreal to traditional Irish-Canadian parents. Ryan completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Carleton University in 1957 and a Master of Education in Psychology in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1959. Upon her graduation Ryan went to work in the Canadian North, as a Northern Service Officer and teacher with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in George River and Ungava Bay, Quebec, and Lac La Martre, Northwest Territories. Ryan developed a career-long interest in aboriginal peoples, the need for social justice, and it found expression in research and training to help local communities in the realms of land claims, local economic development, preservation and use of aboriginal languages, and promotion of the use of traditional knowledge in the local delivery of medicine, education, and justice. Learning Inuktitut, Ryan worked for the devolution of authority from Ottawa and Yellowknife to the local level. She saw her work as preparing Inuit and Dene communities for self-government, after settled comprehensive land claims had been achieved. In 1964, Ryan left to take up PhD studies at the newly formed Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of British Columbia under Professor Harry B. Hawthorn, founding head of the department. Under his guidance, she became one of the main authors of Part 2 of A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies—The Hawthorn Report, published by the federal government in 1967. During her studies at UBC, she adopted two young aboriginal daughters. In 1967, she accepted a professorship in anthropology at the University of Calgary which she held until her retirement in 1987. She was the first female head of the Department of Anthropology (1978 – 83). From 1987 onwards, Ryan was a senior research associate at the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA), located on the campus of UofC. During this time, she worked in northern participatory action research (PAR) projects in Fort McPherson and Lac La Martre, and on numerous consulting assignments with provincial mid-North and urban aboriginal communities and organizations, working with Joanne Barnaby, the executive director of the Dene Cultural Institute, and Allice Legat and Martha Johnson of the Arctic Institute. In addition, Ryan worked on PAR projects in Nicaragua. She maintained a long-term career relationship with the Lubicon Cree in Alberta and in 1995 published 'Doing Things the Right Way: Dene Traditional Justice in Lac La Martre, N.W.T., published jointly by the Arctic Institute and the University of Calgary Press. In recognition of her lifelong efforts, Joan received the Prix Weaver-Tremblay Prize for exceptional contributions to Canadian Applied Anthropology, as well as the Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award of the City of Calgary. A nomination for the Order of Canada was circulating at the time of her death.


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ARCTIC, VOL. 59, NO. 4 (DECEMBER 2006) P. 447– 448, Obituary by Mike Robinson, President & CEO of Glenbow Museum,,

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