McMaster creates new vice-provost, Indigenous position 

The Indigenous Circle at McMaster, a circular space divided into quarters, with curved tiers of stone stone seating radiating out from the centre.

The search for the inaugural vice-provost, Indigenous will begin this spring. The position will be held by an Indigenous faculty member for a five-year, renewable term. 


That’s how Dawn Martin-Hill, one of the longest-serving Indigenous faculty members at McMaster University, describes the establishment of the first vice-provost, Indigenous role.

Martin-Hill, a professor in Indigenous Studies and co-chair of the Indigenous Education Council (IEC) at McMaster, says she is excited to soon “have a new champion.”

“Initiatives can’t happen without leadership support,” she says. “It will be helpful to have an Indigenous voice at the senior leadership table at McMaster.”

The search for the inaugural vice-provost, Indigenous will begin this spring. The position will be held by an Indigenous faculty member for a five-year, renewable term.

The Terms of Reference for the position were created through a consultation process with more than 25 Indigenous faculty, staff, students and community members participating. It will be a living document meant to evolve as the Indigenous community of the university evolves.

“This is a momentous occasion for McMaster,” says Susan Tighe, provost and vice-president (Academic).

“I am deeply appreciative that we can work together to integrate Indigenous research, teaching, and Ways of Knowing side by side with the pursuit of academic excellence.”

The introduction of the vice-provost, Indigenous position advances McMaster’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation and reflects a shared understanding of the importance of having a leadership office dedicated specifically to Indigenous initiatives.

“We all win by having this position,” says Bernice Downey, associate dean, Indigenous Health, and co-author of the Terms of Reference for the new role. “I also want to emphasize that the hard work is just beginning.”

A focus on education, research and decolonization

The work of the vice-provost, Indigenous will be informed by the Indigenous community at McMaster. It includes responsibility for implementing and maintaining a university Indigenous education and research plan, providing vision and leadership for decolonization while furthering the Indigenization of the university.

The role will report to the provost and vice-president (Academic) and sit as a member of Provost Council. It will also have collective accountability to the Indigenous Education Council and Indigenous administrators.

In March, Martin-Hill and Downey were joined by Mark Hill, former elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River and community co-chair of the IEC, to address McMaster’s Senate in the Council Room in Gilmour Hall.

“The first thing I noticed when I walked in to this room is the wampum belt above the door, an important reminder of relationships,” Hill told senators.

“I’m excited for today and for this new role. It will continue to bridge relationships between McMaster’s administration and the Indigenous community.”

Several members of the Joint Indigenous-Administrative Consultation Group (JIACG), a group that played a key role in establishing the new role, were in attendance when senators endorsed the position.

Approval of the new role by both McMaster’s Senate and Board of Governors advances McMaster’s longstanding support of Indigeneity at the university.

Indigenous studies at McMaster

The history of Indigenous studies at McMaster goes back to 1989 when the first Drumbeat Conference was organized by Indigenous students and co-hosted by the Six Nations Confederacy. That year also saw the launch of the McMaster First Nations Students Association.

In 1992, the Indigenous Studies Program was founded, offering a three-year BA degree, making it one of the longest-standing programs of its kind in Canada. In 2015, the program was expanded to a four-year Honours degree.

In 2022, the same year the Indigenous Health Learning Lodge opened, the Indigenous Studies program became the Indigenous Studies Department within the Faculty of Social Sciences. Work soon began to launch the Master’s in Indigenous Studies program, which will welcome its first cohort in the Fall 2024 term.

McMaster has also committed to efforts to increase the number of Indigenous faculty members, having welcomed seven new faculty members in recent years and three new hires for the IEC.