June 21, 2018
Five things you should know about Michael Hart, UCalgary's inaugural vice-provost (Indigenous engagement)
On June 1, Dr. Michael Hart joined the University of Calgary as the first vice-provost (Indigenous engagement); in this newly created role, he will serve as a key champion and advocate for ii' taa'poh'to'p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy. UToday caught up with him to learn more about his background and expertise.
1. He is a citizen of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba.
While raised by a single mother in Winnipeg, Hart spoke of his extensive time with his grandparents in and around Fisher River Cree Nation. He remembers the outhouses, water pumps and unlocked doors as the norm in those early years. “I truly enjoyed my time with my grandparents, the bush, trying to catch rabbits, getting lost amongst the poplar trees, hearing the wolves and loons, and even being excited and scared to see the bears,” he reflects.
“While I was always accepted by my family and the community, I would wonder why we didn’t live there. I wasn’t recognized as a status Indian back then as I don’t have a father identified on my birth certificate.” Hart’s family was one of thousands displaced by the Indian Act’s patriarchal regulations that undermined the rights of Indigenous women and children across Canada between 1951 and 1985.
"My mother lost her Indian status as recognized by the Canadian government when she married. By the time I came into the picture, she had settled in Winnipeg and was a single parent. These early years were both wonderful and challenging. Wonderful as my mother instilled pride in us by always speaking proudly that we were, are, Cree and ensured we stayed together as a family.
"At the same time, it was challenging as the discrimination and racism was blatant, from being denied services, regularly harassed by security guards, told I could not manage university entrance courses, and trying to fit in places where my identity was regularly put down with negative comments.
"As soon as Bill C-31 was passed, my family members were reinstated as Fisher River Cree Nation. Passionately, I use the term citizen to recognize that I am a person of a nation and as a nation we hold inalienable rights, including our rights to self-determination and our culture."
2. His Cree name is Kaskitémahikan
“I was given my Cree name as a young adult, during a time when I was exercising a strong dedication to my identity and culture, and was actively involved in our traditional and ceremonial practices,” explains Hart. “Following the lead of other Cree people at the time, I mainly used this name in ceremony and didn’t often share it otherwise.”
It wasn’t until he prepared to publish his book, Wīcihtowin, that Hart went through a deep reflection process on whether to include his Cree name as part of the reference for the book. “While I may have moved outside of cultural protocols as understood by some of our Cree people, I decided to stand strong with the publication of my Cree name, Kaskitémahikan (Black Wolf).”
3. He undertook all his post-secondary education at the University of Manitoba
Hart entered the University of Manitoba through the Special Pre-Medical Studies Program (SPSP) with the intent of becoming a psychiatrist, but decided to enter social work, which better aligned with his perspective and values.
“During my years as a student, I was not exposed to any content that reflected my life as an Indigenous man, except for one course in the summer of my last year of my undergrad program,” says Hart. “The course entitled Native People and Social Welfare Policy was like a tiny island in a sea of unfamiliar waves. The content enhanced my interest in my own life, but in new ways as I learned about Indigenous histories, policies controlling our people, and impact of colonialism.”
Hart carried this new passion into the field of social work, completing a BA (psychology), BSW, MSW and a PhD in social work. He was struck by the lack of content addressing Indigenous people during his education, and it became a driving force for him as an academic.
“I knew from my personal experience as an Indigenous person growing up in poverty and experiencing oppression and racism, and as a student who was learning how to work in a profession without learning about Indigenous people, perspectives, and practices, that something had to change.”
4. He held a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledges and Social Work
“One of my greatest professional achievements was becoming the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledges and Social Work,” says Hart. “In this position I have been able to contribute to the developing international network of Indigenous scholars addressing Indigenous approaches to practice and social issues pertinent to Indigenous peoples.”
He co-ordinated and hosted the second International Indigenous Voices in Social Work Conference in 2013, published the text International Indigenous Voices in Social Work in 2016, co-ordinated and hosted the National Indigenous Social Work Conference in 2016, published and edited the Journal of Indigenous Social Development, and supported numerous students in their undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies.
While the scope of Hart’s ongoing scholarship is broad, his primary focus remains on contributing to the well-being of Indigenous Peoples and challenging the barriers they face.
5. Family and community are at the heart of his downtime
“This work can be daunting and at times overwhelming. The walk uphill seems never-ending. To manage, I have relied on family and my community. I receive so much joy supporting my sons as they explore the world and reach for their dreams. I also receive so much support by contributing to my community through our traditional practices and cultural ceremonies. And, for those moments I need some short down time, I enjoy escaping to a movie theatre. My favourite movies are older and diverse, especially Young Frankenstein, Cry Freedom, and Dance Me Outside.”
ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.