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PhD grad lauded for work on effects of climate change in Aboriginal populations

Dr. Benita Tam, who completed her PhD thesis under the supervision of UTSC Prof. William Gough, has received the

This past winter brought record snowfalls, even departing with flurries on the first day of spring in Toronto, even though it was globally the warmest winter on record. Having just experienced these extremes, there is little doubt that weather and climate can present significant challenges. Research from Dr. Benita Tam, a recent PhD from University of Toronto, finds Ontario’s Aboriginal populations—both urban and rural—are particularly susceptible to the implications of unpredictable and extreme climate conditions.  Tam says this is a result of the socio-economic, political and health disadvantages Aboriginal populations experience.

Wellness for many Aboriginal groups is a holistic concept that encompasses a balance among four aspects of the human condition: spiritual, physical, emotional and mental.  Changes in the environment not only affect the impact on harvesting practices and animal behaviour, winter roads, but also health and the ability to adapt.

 “Climate change may significantly impact Aboriginal communities in the future, including rural and remote communities’ hunting activities and access to medical assistance,” she says. “Urban Aboriginal participants were most affected by weather. This is of concern as they may be more susceptible to weather-related health issues, including SAD and heat stress.”

Tam works at the challenging intersection of the physical and social sciences.  The results of her research are documented in her Ph.D. thesis, The Effects of Weather and Climate Variability on the Well-Being of a Rural and Urban Aboriginal Group in Ontario, Canada, completed under the supervision of UTSC Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences Professor Dr. William Gough.  The Canadian Association of Geographers is recognizing Tam’s work with the prestigious Robin P. Armstrong Memorial Prize for Excellence in Indigenous Studies.  The prize is conferred annually for the best Master’s or Ph.D. thesis on an applied research subject related to Canadian First Nations, Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples and issues, and will be awarded at the association’s annual meeting at Simon Fraser University in June.

As a student, Tam was previously recognized by the Canadian Association of Geographers Ontario Division with the 2010 Doctoral Student Paper Award.  Tam is currently a climate change scenario analyst at Environment Canada.

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