Situated on traditional Coast and Straits Salish territory, UVic is recognized for its commitment to and expertise in innovative programs and initiatives that support Indigenous students and communities. We recognize the special role the university can play in relation to Canada’s Indigenous peoples. We continue to build on our commitment to — and our greatly valued relationship with — Indigenous communities.

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Our goal is to be the university of choice for Indigenous students, faculty and staff. One of the objectives in UVic’s Strategic Plan is to increase the number of Indigenous students graduating from all faculties, building on our commitment to and our unique relationship with Canada’s First Peoples.

UVic offers a growing range of courses and programs that reflect the cultural and historical perspectives of Indigenous people — including here in Fine Arts.

“The work of the instructors and students in the Faculty of Fine Arts embraces indigeneity and the arts as a means to embed Aboriginal perspectives and understandings into curriculum and research in meaningful and compelling ways,” says Dean Susan Lewis.

To this end, all five of our departments — Visual Arts, Writing, Theatre, Art History & Visual Studies, and the School of Music — have been involved with various people and projects over the past few years. Some, like Visual Arts, have established permanent positions, while others are exploring how Indigenous practices and knowledge can benefit their specific areas and students.

The Audain Professorship

In 2010, Governor General’s Award-winning artist Rebecca Belmore became the first Audain Professor of Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest in the Visual Arts department — a continuing position that brings in different visiting artists. The 2011 Audain professor, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, described this unique rotating position as “a rare, needed and timely opportunity for Canadian society to reconsider its relationship to Indigeneity.”

Rande Cook and his class examine the pole he’s carving (Photo Services)

The Audain Professorship has benefited from a variety of approaches and practices by all of its professors. Students gain valuable dynamic learning opportunities working alongside professional Indigenous artists. In addition to Rasmuson Fellowship winner Nicholas Galanin (2012), multimedia Kanien’kehaka artist and UVic MFA/PhD alumnus Jackson 2Bears spent two years as the Audain Professor (2013-15), engaging with students; his 2014 Audain exhibit, For This Land, was created in collaboration with fellow Kanien’kehaka poet Janet Rogers.

’Namgis nation chief Rande Cook held the Audain Professorship from 2016-2018. A multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, Cook’s spring 2016 class focused on raising student awareness around current issues in Canadian first nations politics. “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now,” Cook said at the time, “which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging.”

Carey Newman with his “Witness Blanket”

The most recent Audain Professor is Kwagiulth and Coast Salish artist and master carver Carey Newman. A former School of Music student, Newman is perhaps best known for his remarkable Witness Blanket sculpture—created and assembled from over 800 items collected from the sites and survivors of Indian residential schools across Canada, the large-scale installation was unveiled at UVic in 2014, and quickly became a national monument that sparked reflection and conversation about residential schools, settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation.

In April 2109, the Witness Blanket made history again by being made part of the permanent collection at Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights; the historically unique agreement unites Indigenous concepts and Western legal principles to cover the protection and use of Newman’s powerful art installation.

Much like Cook, Newman is excited to bring ideas of reconciliation into his classes at UVic. “I’m interested in looking at how artists can take on the issue of reconciliation through their own relationship with Canada,” he says. “That way, it’s not limiting it to Indigenous people but is encouraging anyone, even international students, to relate to it.

Newman is also up for the challenge of teaching in a university for the first time. “This is breaking new ground for me. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to convert the experience of mentorship into a more formal educational setting.”

Noted alumni

Noted author Eden Robinson

Among the Department of Writing’s acclaimed alumni are celebrated Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation author Richard Van Camp, award-winning Haisla Nation author Eden Robinson and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Phillip Kevin Paul. Van Camp — a noted author, screenwriter and storyteller — graduated in 1997 and has become one of Canada’s leading Indigenous authors. Robinson was shortlisted for both the Giller Prize & the Governor General’s Literary Award for her novel 2000 Monkey Beach, which subsequently won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Paul’s second book of poetry, Little Hunger, was shortlisted for a 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award and he has worked with UVic’s linguistics department to ensure the preservation of the SENCOTEN language.

Also in Writing, the late award-winning Ojibway author and journalist Richard Wagamese was 2011’s Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Writing department. His course on “The Power of Stories” was very popular, and his public lecture was a standing-room only event.

And Brittany Postal was named the winner of the 2016 Aboriginal Youth Award. Postal is a student with the En’owkin Centre’s Indigenous Fine Arts program, developed in cooperation with UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Indigenous Resurgence Coodinator

Lindsay Delaronde running a corn doll workshop at Legacy Gallery in 2016 (photo: Corina Fischer)

In addition to being a Visual Arts MFA alumna, Lindsay Delaronde was selected as the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence in March 2017. An Iroquois Mohawk woman born and raised on the Kahnawake reservation outside of Montreal, Delaronde also holds a UVic MA in Indigenous Communities Counselling, and sees both her art and counseling practice as intertwined.

“I hope to create artworks that reflect the values of this land, which are cultivated and nurtured by the Indigenous peoples of this territory,” she says. “I see my role as a way to bring awareness to and acknowledge that reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is a process, one in which I can facilitate a collaborative approach for creating strong relationships to produce co-created art projects in Victoria.”

Delaronde is now the Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator for the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Recent projects

Graduating composition student Kim Farris-Manning presented her composition W̱SÁNEĆ SPW̱ELLO in April 2017. Combining music, dance and contemporary art in a collaboration between artists, students and elders, Indigenous people and settlers, this artistic collaboration featured students from both the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ tribal school in Brentwood Bay and UVic. The performance was held at the summit of SṈAKA (Mount Tolmie), and created a forum for thought and discussion surrounding respecting and honouring the earth and its people.

The School of Music’s Music Education Association recently hosted a series of workshops on “Indigenizing Music Education.” Funded by the Faculty of Education’s Community and Scholarship Fund, the workshops featured Alia Yeates, Butch Dick and others.

Hjalmer Wenstob at his 2016 exhibit, Emerging Through the Fog

In the spring of 2016, Nuu-chah-nulth artist and Visual Arts MFA candidate Hjalmer Wenstob presented the exhibit Emerging Through the Fog: Tsa-Qwa-Supp and Tlehpik – Together at UVic’s downtown Legacy Gallery. Featuring the work of Wenstob and the late “Fog-God” Art Thompson, the exhibit was co-curated by Wenstob and Art History’s Butler Palmer.

Applied Theatre professor & 2015 TEDxVictoria speaker Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta is currently involved in a three-year project with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Treaty Group to use intergenerational applied theatre techniques to preserve their language — now only spoken by about 65 elders.

Also in Theatre, alumna Will Weigler conceived of the brilliant and moving 2013 performance, From the Heart: Enter into the Journey of Reconciliation. This community-based project was set within a 14,000-square-foot indoor labyrinth in Victoria, where audiences encountered scenes encouraging non-Indigenous people to take responsibility for learning more about their history as a step toward solidarity with first nations, Metis & Inuit people. Weigler has since published a book on the project, which serves as both a record of the Victoria production and a template for other communities interested in developing their own version of it.

Student Ali Bosworth Rumm sews buttons onto the Big Button Blanket (photo: Michael Glendale, Martlet)

A button blanket is important to Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest for many reasons. Like a totem pole, it tells stories of people, places and events; it represents power and prestige; demonstrates extraordinary skill and sophisticated artistry; and creates a unique way of learning and knowing. That’s why Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler Palmer, in collaboration with Tahltan Nation artist, curator, and consulting instructor Peter Morin, decided to create a class project to make the biggest button blanket in the world in 2013.

The subsequent exhibit Adasla: The Movement of Hands was mounted at UVic’s Legacy Galley in 2014, and garnered a great deal of attention in the community and the media. The blanket’s inaugural dance at the opening ceremonies of UVic’s annual Diversity Research Forum at First People’s House in February 2014 was a stirring and memorable event for all who attended.

Future plans

The Faculty of Fine Arts began a new Orion Series on Indigeneity and the Arts in the 2016/17 academic year, with Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby as the first guest. More guests —including Indigenous writers, artists and scholars — will be invited to speak to our students and the general public each year.

Fine Arts is dedicated to embracing indigineity, and will continue to explore ways our students can benefit from more traditional ways of knowing.