IGov celebrates school status on National Indigenous Peoples Day


After more than two decades of nurturing the next generation of leaders, Indigenous Governance will welcome students this fall with a strengthened commitment from the university and more professors in its ranks than ever before.

On this National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Faculty of Human and Social Development (HSD) is proud to announce that Indigenous Governance, a program at the University of Victoria since 1999, is now officially the seventh school within HSD. 

School of Indigenous Governance Director Devi Mucina says the status boost is greater than symbolic, giving IGOV more permanence than in the past. 

“This is a commitment the university has made. IGOV is something that is needed by our communities. It represents an important space that attends to issues of governance,” Mucina says. 

“This program has meant so much to so many people. We are where we are now because of UVic’s community, which has been supportive and guiding us, and also the administration.”

Dean Helga Hallgrímsdóttir says the development is part of HSD’s commitments and obligations to decolonization and Indigenization.

“The move brings stability to IGOV as it adapts and grows to meet the evolving needs of Indigenous communities and the next generation of thinkers and change-makers,” she says.

Another huge transformation, says Mucina, is that the IGOV now has five faculty members, more than ever before. IGOV’s most recent hires, including Professor Hōkūlani Aikau, who is acting associate dean research for HSD, Associate Professor Gina Starblanket and Assistant Professor Dawn Smith, bring new perspectives and an engagement with gender and governance to IGOV.

Associate Professor Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, formerly in political science, brings a decade of experience working within UVic to the new School of Indigenous Governance. 

“These are amazing Indigenous women,” Mucina says. 

He says although IGOV will remain grounded in responding to the political realities of Indigenous Peoples in these territories, the school will take a more expansive view of indigeneity.

“We want to be engaged in questions like, how do we begin to enact and plan for Indigenous futures?” Mucina says. "We want to make that space where folks can imagine, dream and breathe new futures of indigeneity into being.”

Read on to find out more about IGOV’s newest faculty members. 



Dawn Smith

How can we be good visitors? It’s a central question Dawn Smith has been thinking about and acting upon during her time with Indigenous Governance.

Smith is Nuu-chah-nulth from Ehattesaht First Nation, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but grew up in W̱SÁNEĆ (Tsawout First Nation in Saanichton).

An IGov alumna, she is now a faculty member at the school, hired as an assistant professor a year ago after teaching as a sessional and doing extensive work with UVic over the years and at Camosun College, where she was an education strategist. 

One of the first actions Smith took when developing a course called Land, Language, Waters, was reach out to Songhees Elder Dr. Skip Dick to ask permission to do a traditional entry into lək̓ʷəŋən territory. 

“He said he’s been waiting for 20 years for someone to ask him that,” she says. “It’s a longstanding tradition on the island.”

So, last September, IGov students, along with faculty members and staff, embarked on a canoe journey from Esquimalt Lagoon, asking to come into lək̓ʷəŋən territory and for permission to work, study and live here. 

“It ended up being this wonderful endeavour,” Smith says.

Smith is building off of this work, extending the opportunity to all new IGov students, who will be able to undertake the same canoe journey, asking for the same permissions, at orientation this fall. 

“We’re learning what it means to be good visitors. What that means is to walk softly. This is what the expectation was a long time ago,” she says.

For Smith, who completed certificate, diploma, bachelor and master’s degrees at UVic before obtaining her doctorate from the University of British Columbia in Educational Leadership and Policy, teaching in HSD and IGov is more than a dream come true.

“I felt that this was a calling, and it’s absolutely where I should be,” she says. “The most important work I will do will be here.” 



Gina Starblanket

Gina Starblanket brings a Prairie perspective and a strong critical lens on gender, sexuality and feminism to Indigenous Governance.

A member of Star Blanket Cree Nation, and raised in Regina, Starblanket joined IGov last year as an associate professor from the University of Calgary, where she was a Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Decolonization. 

As the principal investigator of the SSHRC-funded Prairie Relationality Network, Starblanket brings deep knowledge of Prairie political life and a commitment to the intellectual theories and traditions of Indigenous governance from the Prairies to IGov. 

“Theories of how we challenge colonialism don’t look the same everywhere,” Starblanket says. “I’m trying to hold up and honour the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual knowledge that are home-grown in the Prairies.” 

An IGov alumna, who completed her master’s and PhD at the University of Victoria, Starblanket teaches Indigenous feminism and casts a critical eye on gendered and heteronormative aspects of colonialism. She also researches treaty implementation in Canada, including the ways treaties are understood by Indigenous Peoples. 

“I think through questions of decolonization in Canada from a number of different angles,” she says. 

Starblanket’s most recent book, Storying Violence: Unravelling Colonial Narratives in the Stanley Trial, examined the trial of Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer acquitted of murder and manslaughter after killing 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie. Starblanket says she knew from the outset that the Boushie family would not get justice. 

“The racism and division that I grew up with was so normalized, part of my own drive as an academic was to gain the vocabulary and analytical skills to be able to articulate these unspoken dynamics,” she says.  


Hōkūlani K. Aikau

Hōkūlani K. Aikau 

A Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) researcher and teacher, Hōkūlani Aikau uses her roles in the academy to decolonize and Indigenize higher education.

Aikau, who joined IGOV as a professor last year and took up the role as acting associate dean research for HSD in April, is working to demystify the research process so that Indigenous folks feel empowered to pursue their own research questions and solve problems that matter to their communities.

“When I was a student, research seemed like this magical thing that only really smart academic types did,” she says. “I would come to learn that we all engage in processes of inquiry and problem solving and that research is something we already do.”

Aikau is an interdisciplinary scholar with training in American studies and sociology and teaching experience across a range of topics including Indigenous politics. Her research focus includes contemporary Native Hawaiian identity and politics; Indigenous resurgence and climate change in the Pacific; Indigenous environmental justice; and Indigenous feminist theory.

As a person born in her ancestral homelands but raised on the land of other Indigenous peoples, Aikau’s research also explores the relationship between Indigeneity and diaspora and practising how to be a good Indigenous guest on these Indigenous lands. 

Aikau, who has been affiliated with IGOV since 2006, looks forward to supporting students as they examine the “underpinnings of what we know, how we know it, who is framed as having the capacity to be knowers, and the power of knowledge transmission.”

“I’m excited to be a part of this next phase of IGOV as we continue to center Indigenous relational governance while also attending to the intersectional dimensions of that work,” she says.


 Heidi Stark

Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark

Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, who is Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), came to IGOV after a decade in political science at UVic.

Stark, who joined IGOV last year as an associate professor, currently serves as the director of the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE), a research centre at UVic dedicated to expanding Indigenous wellbeing by building on the strengths of Indigenous peoples, practices and knowledges.

She holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include Indigenous law and governance, treaty rights and Indigenous politics in the United States and Canada. Focused on both Anishinaabe and US/Canada law, her recent work explores the criminalization of Indigenous assertions of sovereignty, conditions of consent and gendered violence.

She is the principal investigator on two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grants, including a six-year, $2.4 million project, co-led with Dayna Scott from York University, which focuses on restoring Indigenous jurisdiction with partner institutions, critical scholars, Indigenous communities and land defenders.

The SSHRC project “Anishinaabe Inaakonigewin” expands on her existing work with Anishinaabe communities engaged in the revitalization of Anishinaabe law and governance, with a focus on land, water, treaty rights and child welfare.

Stark says IGOV has always been uniquely positioned to tackle the distinctive challenges facing Indigenous nations.

“Recognizing that colonialism is an ever shape-shifting force, our team is excited to embrace and promote the vast multiplicity of Indigenous governing practices and processes in order to ensure that we are always creating spaces to envision the futures our nations’ desire.”