July 29, 2020

Scholar challenges our understanding of Indigenous political movements and the Canadian state

Political scientist Gina Starblanket one of 11 UCalgary faculty awarded Canada Research Chair positions
Gina Starblanket, Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in the Politics of Decolonization
Gina Starblanket, Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in the Politics of Decolonization Gina Starblanket

As an Indigenous Canadian political scientist, Dr. Gina Starblanket, PhD, has frequently found herself at odds with the traditional approach of Canadian political science. 

“Canadian political science hasn’t always engaged with Indigenous nations as constituting legitimate political communities with legitimate political actors,” explains Starblanket, an assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Political Science who has just won a coveted Canada Research Chair (CRC) Tier 2 in The Politics of Decolonization. “I’m very interested in unsettling the egregious misconceptions of Indigenous politics in Canada.” 

With that as her overarching goal, Starblanket’s five-year CRC term promises to be one of deep and challenging engagement with both scholarly audiences but also society at large. 

Book tackles narratives in high-profile trial

A strong example of the latter is Starblanket’s newly published book, co-written with Dallas Hunt, entitled Storying Violence: Unravelling Colonial Narratives in the Stanley Trial. The book looks at the racist narratives that circulated in the high-profile and controversial trial of Gerald Stanley for the death of Colten Boushie, who was shot on Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016. 

“That’s one example of how Canada’s legal and political infrastructure functions to uphold and legitimize the violence that Indigenous people in the prairies face,” says Starblanket. 

Mobilizing knowledge around Indigenous political life on the prairies is one of the key focuses of Starblanket’s research, as is Indigenous feminist activism and treaty-based governance. 

Exploring a history of political subordination

“The political subordination of Indigenous people in Canada has been the perennial problem,” says Starblanket. “This has been central to the infrastructure of this country and it remains so.” Starblanket explores the ways in which this political subordination serves to uphold the legitimacy of the current Canadian state and its claims to sovereignty while also maintaining Indigenous oppression within the state. 

She adds: “Indigenous people occupy a distinct political place in Canada given the history of this country and yet our political mobilizations are often written off as being simply grievance politics or identity politics rather than legitimate political movements.” 

There’s an assumption that Indigenous people are doing something wrong in their political organizing. These notions really do Indigenous people a disservice.

“My goal is to deconstruct these misinterpretations and focus on Indigenous political projects that are at hand in a much more robust way. One that is informed by Indigenous voices and perspectives.” 

In particular, Starblanket seeks to shine a light on the long-overlooked contributions of Indigenous women and feminists in the realm of Indigenous politics.

“We have a tendency to focus on male political actors,” says Starblanket. “We talk about Chiefs of the National Indian Brotherhood, and Louis Riel and Big Bear — these famous Indigenous political leaders, who are almost always men. So, as part of this broader project of drawing out Indigenous political contributions in the prairies, I feel we also need a deliberate effort to revisit and engage more sustained, in-depth analysis of the political contributions of Indigenous women.” 

Starblanket is one of six newly named CRCs from the University of Calgary. Five CRCs have also been renewed for another term. The Canada Research Chair Program is founded on excellence in the pursuit of knowledge, and invests up to $295 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. 

“The Canada Research Chair Program recognizes research excellence that is driving creativity and innovation across the academy,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “The diverse perspectives of our CRCs represent the future of research in Canada, and its tremendous potential to create new knowledge that benefits all Canadians.” 

Six UCalgary scholars named new CRCs

  • Dr. Kerry Black, PhD (Schulich School of Engineering): NSERC Tier 2 CRC in Integrated Knowledge, Engineering and Sustainable Communities 
  • Dr. Colleen Cuthbert, PhD (Nursing): CIHR Tier 2 CRC in Patient and Family Centered Cancer Survivorship 
  • Dr. Carolyn Emery, PhD (Kinesiology): CIHR Tier 1 CRC in Concussion 
  • Dr. Tricia Stadnyk, PhD (Arts): NSERC Tier 2 CRC in Hydrological Modelling 
  • Dr. Gina Starblanket, PhD (Arts): SSHRC Tier 2 CRC in Politics of Decolonization 
  • Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, PhD (Kinesiology, School of Public Policy): CIHR Tier 2 CRC in Disability Policy for Children and Youth 

Five UCalgary CRCs renewed

  • Dr. Tao Dong, PhD (UCVM): NSERC Tier 2 CRC in Molecular Ecology of Waterborne Microbes 
  • Dr. Simon Hirota, PhD (CSM): CIHR Tier 2 CRC in Host-microbe Interactions and Chronic Disease 
  • Dr. Larissa Lai, PhD (Arts): SSHRC Tier 2 CRC in Creative Writing 
  • Dr. Justin MacCallum, PhD (Sci): CIHR Tier 2 CRC in Biomolecular Structure and Design 
  • Dr. Warren Piers, PhD (Sci): NSERC Tier 1 CRC in the Mechanisms of Homogeneous Catalytic Reactions