Sarah Hunt / Tłaliłila'ogwa

Sarah Hunt
Sarah Hunt

Category: Presidents' Alumni Awards

Name: Sarah Hunt / Tłaliłila'ogwa

UVic degree and year: Bachelor of Arts, 1999; Master of Arts, 2007

Other degrees: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Geography, SFU, 2014 (governor general’s gold medal recipient)

Current hometown: Lekwungen territories / Victoria, BC   

Birthplace: Lekwungen territories / Victoria, BC

Gilakas’la! Sarah Hunt/Tłaliłila'ogwa is a Kwakwaka’wakw writer, professor and community activist who grew up locally on the Songhees reserve. She has ancestry to the Kwagu’ł through her paternal grandfather Chief Henry Hunt, and Dzawada’enuxw through her grandmother Helen Hunt (Nelson), and is also Ukrainian and English through her maternal grandparents. 

As a community-based researcher, Hunt has worked in collaboration with Indigenous communities locally, nationally and internationally on questions of violence, justice and wellbeing, with a particular focus on possibilities for creating new avenues for justice for Indigenous youth, gender-diverse people, women and families. As an interdisciplinary Indigenous scholar and critical geographer, Hunt has contributed to the growth of scholarship on the nature of Indigenous knowledge and development of methodologies which further Indigenous self-determination.

Hunt was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal in 2014 and, in 2017, the American Association of Geographers Glenda Laws Award for Social Justice in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of geography. After five years as a professor at UBC, Hunt has returned back to Vancouver Island as Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Political Ecology in the School of Environmental Studies at UVic, which allows her to focus more fully on revitalizing Indigenous philosophies of justice rooted in the cultural practices of island nations. Having published more than 40 articles, book chapters and reports, Sarah /Tłaliłila'ogwa is recognized as a leading Indigenous advocate on issues of importance to coastal peoples. Hunt and partner, Karolina, spend a lot of time learning about the lands on which they live as visitors here, connecting their love of birds, beaches and gardening with honouring Lekwungen stewardship of these lands.

Q: What was the moment you realized your career calling?

SH: I always loved to write, even as a child, and was lucky to be raised by a mom who encouraged my love of writing as an avenue for social change. But I didn’t really see myself as an academic or writer until my mid-twenties. I visited Christine St. Peter, chair of women’s studies at UVic, to ask her advice about grad school. She asked what I wanted to do with my degree, saying, “Maybe you just want to write?” and my heart leapt at the thought—I knew that, yes, writing was my calling. As a professor, I’m grateful to have a career where I’m given space to write.


Q: Many people are not following one career for life. What other work might interest you in the future, even as a hypothetical?

SH: I’ve always wanted to be an architect or designer. Instead, I just collect books and magazines on design.


Q: What is a favourite book you read in the last five years and why?

SH: Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich, who is a master storyteller. Under the guise of a dystopian future, she paints a compelling picture of what it is to live as an Indigenous person.


Q: What is a movie or television show that always makes you laugh?

SH: Smoke Signals.


Q: What is your advice to younger people entering your line of work or who feel lost or confused about their future? 

SH: I think we’re all confused about the future! I encourage young people to really trust your gut and to find someone who can remind you of your strengths and passions. Follow that gut feeling when you feel lost—it will help you to decide what your path should be. Or what it will take to create your own path, rather than follow one already laid out for you.


Q: What’s a part of your daily routine that you can’t do without? Do you have a mantra that you can share?

SH: When I go to bed, I pick something from the day to be grateful for. No matter how difficult the day, this helps me to give thanks to the land beneath my feet and the community that holds me.


Q: The pandemic has come with lessons for many of us. What is something you learned that you will carry forward with you?

SH: Online drag shows are nearly as fun as live ones.


Q: How did UVic, or your faculty specifically, shape you as a person? What is the best advice a mentor has given you?

SH: I was incredibly lucky to have mentors at UVic who created avenues for me to learn things that weren’t available in classes at the time. I developed directed reading courses and did an interdisciplinary masters tailored to my work on stories of transformation.

These mentors helped me to develop my approach as an un-disciplined scholar, rather than one confined to any specific discipline, which provided space for my knowledge as a queer Kwakwaka’wakw scholar to thrive. I’m not sure those professors realized how significant their interventions were, but I am eternally grateful because it allowed me to take up space here on my own terms.   


Q: If your wellbeing is a chair—what are the four legs that support you? Where do you find strength and motivation?

SH: The ocean, community, movement and food.

I find strength and motivation in the stories and leadership of young relatives. Youth are my greatest mentors.


Q: What is your favourite memory of being a student at UVic?

SH: Tania Willard (now a professor at UBC Okanagan) and I had a radio show on CFUV called UnReserved (yes, the original one). What I remember most from that was the laughter. We laughed through every show. It was true medicine.


Q: What do you hope you and your work will ultimately contribute toward a better future for people and the planet?

SH: Justice. And Safety. For all. Ultimately, that vision is what keeps me going.


For the full list of 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, click here.