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Even as a young girl growing up in her traditional Nuu-chah-nulth community of Ehattesaht (Zeballos) on Vancouver Island, Dawn Smith knew that getting an education would be a significant part of her path in life. Currently, Dawn is a sessional instructor (Indigenous Studies 200A) and the Indigenous Cultural Acumen Training Community Coordinator for the Office of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Victoria.
“While I was growing up I constantly heard the word ‘education’ from everyone who was important to me,” says Smith, who celebrates her fourth graduation ceremony at UVic with a Master of Arts in Indigenous governance.
Her education began with a certificate in administration for Aboriginal government followed by a diploma in public sector management and then a degree in political science in 2003.
Smith, whose Indigenous family name “Tahehsoomca” means “to be held by the principles, beliefs, values and spirituality of the family,” was elected band chief in her community in 1998. “Community building is where my heart is at,” says Smith, who was compelled to ask, “what is my contribution back to my community and how can I make things better?”
The results of residential school trauma on her family and her community created numerous personal challenges for Smith. Despite the suffering, the love and acceptance of her family brought her great joy. Raised by her great-grandmother and her grandmother, she was given an Indian nickname that meant “to greet people with joy.”
She credits the strength to stand up for herself and her community to her Grandpa Mosses, who was active in Indigenous politics for over 60 years. The Indigenous Governance Program provided valuable networking and leadership skills that will ultimately benefit her family and her community.
Smith has worked as an Indigenous student advisor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development, a position that allowed her to “spread my wings and successfully institute change.” Having recently been re-elected to the band council, she will continue to use her gentle but determined leadership qualities to support the women in her community to find their own voices.
Dawn is in the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of British Columbia. Her research area includes confronting colonialism, particularly racism, within education and society in general, through the use of Indigenous pedagogies, decolonizing methodologies and indigenizing strategies.
Dawn’s hope is to make a positive contribution to the growing discourse on decolonization while giving back to community
– 22 years working with First Nations in areas related to leadership, administration, policy and education.
– (Former) Elected Chief for Ehattesaht Tribe
– (Former) Chief Treaty Negotiator, Ehattesaht Tribe
– (Former) President of Hecate Logging (previous joint partnership between Ehattesaht and Coulson Forest)
– At UVic for 20 years, as a student, employee and now sessional instructor.
– Certificate in Administration for Aboriginal Governments (1996), University of Victoria
– Dipoloma in Public Sector Management (1997), University of Victoria
– Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a Minor in Indigenous Studies (2003), University of Victoria
– Master of Arts in Indigenous Governance (2007), University of Victoria