U of A professor helps Indigenous communities tap into research rooted in their traditions

As the newly named Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance, Dr. Shalene Jobin aims to develop a “research toolbox” to aid in the rebuilding of Indigenous nations.

Shalene Jobin

Dr. Shalene Jobin, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance, is among 16 new or renewed CRCs at the U of A announced Dec. 16. (Photo: John Ulan)

The Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, which represents the seven Indigenous communities in Alberta’s Grande Cache area, wanted to update their citizenship code but needed help deciding where to start.

Pinpointing exactly who is a citizen is a challenge for every country in the world trying to move forward with rules that are fair, but—in the case of Canada’s Indigenous communities—are reflective of traditional values and laws, and make sense in a modern context while recognizing the complexities and effects of colonization.

To help, the group approached Dr. Shalene Jobin, an associate professor in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Native Studies, and her collaborator Dr. Hadley Friedland, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law.

What emerged after two years of conversations with community members and Elders, most of whom are fluent Cree speakers, was that citizenship should begin with a linguistics component.

“Thinking about a community's strength base, like the language knowledge, could be used to meet an applied need to develop a citizenship code,” said Dr. Jobin.

In her work, Dr. Jobin looks for innovations to revitalize Indigenous governance systems through the research process itself. 

“Indigenous nations thrived in complex systems of governance before Canada became a country—systems that remain in place even in the face of Canadian attempts to diminish them,” she said.

“The dream is to develop a research toolbox with an assortment of Indigenous governance research methods that can be used to assist in the rebuilding of Indigenous nations.”

That expertise has led to a number of successes, including Dr. Jobin being formally announced as a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Governance today.

“It's definitely a great honour to have the CRC but also it’s important for me to acknowledge that all the work I do is in relationship with other people,” she said.

Dr. Jobin has been director of the Indigenous Governance Program in the Faculty of Native Studies since 2007, before coming on board as an academic in 2012.

Her current major project is the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, an initiative she co-leads with Dr. Friedland. Wahkohtowin is a fundamental Cree law and governance concept defined as the governance of all relationships or the laws governing all relationships. An interdisciplinary research unit between the faculties of Native studies and law, the Wahkohtowin Lodge responds to the expressed needs of Indigenous communities and organizations that want strategies to identify, rebuild and develop law and governance structures that resonate within their own legal and governance traditions.

“We use different research methods that are more grounded in Indigenous worldview and knowledge that can meet their applied needs.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Jobin received the U of A’s 2020 Community Scholar Award for creating meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities across Alberta, and empowering generations of students to do the same.

"The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action talk about how important public education is for non-Indigenous society,” she said.

“For better or worse, we're all on these lands to stay, so how do we have better relationships with each other where all of us can live miyo pimatisiwin, the good life?"

Dr. Jobin is among 16 U of A Canada Research Chairs announced today, and one of 11 tier 2 CRCs, each awarded $500,000 over five years and acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. The remaining five were named tier 1 chairs, reserved for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields, which come with a $1.4-million grant over seven years.

All told, the U of A has 49 tier 1 and 59 tier 2 CRC chairholders currently active.

Established in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

New and renewed Canada Research Chairs from the U of A

Arts, CRC in Energy Economics and Policy
(tier 2)
Rehabilitation Medicine, CRC in Neuroscience of Literacy
(tier 2)
Education, CRC in Educational Measurement
(renewed tier 1)
FoMD, CRC in Neural Circuits
(tier 2)
Business, CRC in Entrepreneurship, Gender and Family Business
(tier 1)
FoMD, CRC in Genomics and Genetics of Stroke
(tier 2)
Native Studies, CRC in Indigenous Governance
(tier 2)
Science, CRC in Statistical Learning
(tier 2)
FoMD, CRC in Islet Biology
(tier 1)
FoMD, CRC in Life Course, Social Environments, and Health
(tier 2)
Arts, CRC in Critical Disability Studies
(tier 2)
Science, CRC in Animal Cognition, Communication and Neuroethology
(tier 1)
Arts, CRC in Feminism and Intersectionality
(tier 1)
FoMD, CRC in Pain and Addiction
(tier 2)
FoMD, CRC in Immunometabolism
(tier 2)
Education, CRC in Deaf Education
(tier 2)