Get to know our 2023 HSD Research Excellence winners

 2023 HSD Research Excellence winners collage

Their work touches on some of the most important issues of our time: climate change, food security, the toxic drug crisis and Indigenous political life.

Four recipients of the 2023 HSD Research Excellence Awards (pictured clockwise: Gina Starblanket, Karen Urbanoski, Tamara Krawchenko and Matthew Little) share a commitment to building just, equitable, sustainable and decolonial futures. Read on to find out more about their work:

Indigenous Research Excellence Award

Gina Starblanket, Indigenous Governance 

Gina Starblanket’s work has been motivated by a desire to think through longstanding questions that have plagued Indigenous Peoples in the country we call Canada.

Starblanket, an associate professor in the School of Indigenous Governance, has made a point of responding to urgent issues affecting Indigenous communities.

In the five years since completing a PhD in political science at UVic, Starblanket has made important contributions to discussions around Indigenous political life through her research on treaty implementation, decolonization, gender, Indigenous feminism and relationality.

In the fall, Starblanket facilitated the HSD Engage event, The Buffalo Treaty, which brought acclaimed Indigenous scholar Leroy Little Bear to First People’s House at UVic. In 2020, she published a book the traced the history of settler-colonial violence in Saskatchewan called, Storying Violence: Unravelling Colonial Narratives in the Stanley Trial. She is principal investigator of the SSHRC-funded Prairie Relationality Network, and while at the University of Calgary, Starblanket held a Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Decolonization.

A member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation (Treaty 4), Starblanket descends from a long line of leaders who were strongly grounded in treaty. Growing up, Starblanket saw education as one of the ways she could “interrogate and trouble the world” we live in. An early experience in a French Catholic school with few Indigenous students left a deep impression on her about the power of stories.

“The narratives I heard circulating at school were so incredibly different from and in some ways diametrically opposed to the ones I’d hear at home about the land, relationship and responsibility to the land, and the agreements to govern those lands, which are treaty relations,” she says.

“Early on, I developed an interest in the political force of the stories we tell. I saw a lot of forms of violence, oppression and asymmetries in the world around us, but I didn’t feel like I had the tools or skillsets to critique why things were the way they were let alone challenge them.”

Now Starblanket is taking a role in shaping these stories. She and IGOV colleague Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark have taken over as co-editors of the prestigious Native American and Indigenous Studies Association journal. Starblanket also is editing the third edition of the influential Making Space for Indigenous Feminism, passed onto her by her former advisor Joyce Green.

“A lot of my work has been about bringing forward a more capacious understanding of Indigenous political life, how it is we govern our interactions with Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people, and also non-human creation such as the buffalo and the lands we inhabit. 

Early Career Research Excellence

Tamara Krawchenko, Public Administration

Tamara Krawchenko’s research is firmly rooted in place. Growing up between Canada and Ukraine, Krawchenko saw first-hand the impact good governance can make on people’s lives.

“I saw the vital importance of a professional public service and effective governance and the difference it makes between places that can deliver a good quality of life to their population or not,” she says.

An associate professor in the School of Public Administration, Krawchenko’s career has included working as a policy analyst for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), federal and provincial governments, and as an academic for a number of research institutes and universities in Canada, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

A member of UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems, Krawchenko is a core member of UVic’s recently announced Accelerating Community Energy Transformations (ACET) team, where she will advance her research on helping rural and remote communities transition to net-zero economies.

“All of my work foregrounds place. I examine the different challenges and opportunities communities face, their development ambitions and how policies at different levels of government support or hinder them,” she says.

Krawchenko also recently took up a leadership position as chair of Public Administration’s Local Governance Hub.

Matthew Little,

Public Health and Social Policy

Matthew Little’s research on food security and nutrition has taken him around the world—from rural India, where he worked on his PhD, to Vancouver Island, where he has helped create a documentary with Nanaimo Foodshare, to the far North, where he is partnering with Inuit communities on a project examining foods harvested from the waters and land.

Little, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Social Policy, says his research projects are connected by examining how social determinants of health are connected to food security, nutritional health, and health equity. 

In his largest, most complex project, Little is working with governments and Inuit communities in Nunavik (northern Québec) to investigate how social, cultural and political factors influence nutrition and exposure of Inuit communities to contaminants through “country foods,” which are foods that are traditionally harvested and culturally important.

Little says the high cost of food, combined with economic vulnerability and decreasing consumption of country foods, exacerbates food insecurity and contributes to poorer health outcomes in Nunavik.

“Food insecurity in northern Canada is an enormous issue,” he says. “The Inuit have a complex and interesting food system because of the importance and consumption of country foods, in addition to those purchased from retailers.”

Initially trained in kinesiology, a semester abroad in Guatemala working with people with type 2 diabetes brought Little into the public health and nutrition research space. He undertook a PhD focusing on agricultural development and chronic diseases in rural India, and has built his career in public health from there.  

After joining UVic in 2019 from the University of Guelph, Little began working with Nanaimo Foodshare on a project that will be shared in a documentary, called "He Said Apple", which will premiere on June 15 in Nanaimo.

Little says winning the HSD award is validating. “It’s a huge honour,” he says.

Mid-Career Research Excellence

Karen Urbanoski, Public Health and Social Policy

Karen Urbanoski moved to the West coast in 2015 at the start of a health crisis that has claimed more than 11,000 lives in BC and changed the trajectory of her research.

A Canada Research Chair in Substance Use, Addictions and Health Services and associate professor in UVic’s School of Public Health and Social Policy, Urbanoski works to promote a better understanding of how to ensure equitable access to addiction services to people in need.

When the BC government declared a public health emergency in 2016 over an alarming increase in overdose deaths, Urbanoski turned her training as a social epidemiologist to the crisis at hand.

“Since then, I’ve definitely experienced a shift in the kinds of studies I’ve been doing,” she says.

In 2020, during the outset of the COVID-19, Urbanoski joined a consortium of researchers at universities to evaluate a prescribed safer supply pilot program being rolled out across BC. The trial has since become a province-wide initiative, and Urbanoski says BC is the only jurisdiction to roll out such a program across the population.

Urbanoski, who is also a scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), has worked closely with other CISUR scientists and HSD faculty members, including Nursing’s Bernie Pauly and Social Work’s Bruce Wallace, to work on community-engaged research that is saving lives.

“This is a problem fundamentally related to the drug supply being unregulated and so volatile,” she says. “It’s really awful to be witnessing this.”

Her nominator, CISUR director Tim Naimi, who is also a professor with Public Health and Social Policy, praised Urbanoski for securing more than $10 million in research funding and publishing some 30 peer-reviewed publications as a researcher.

“In all of her roles, Karen is the embodiment of excellence is terms of producing crucially relevant research of the highest quality, mentoring research trainees at all levels, and teaching and developing curriculum to give new researchers the tools to pursue their careers,” he says.