C/O Georgia Kirkos

Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill combines her knowledge of anthropology with Indigenous research

In 1992, when McMaster’s Indigenous studies program was first introduced, Dawn Martin-Hill of the Mohawk wolf clan was one of the founders of the program. As an associate professor for both the department of anthropology and the ISP, she has worked through several projects that have brought attention to the Indigenous community and educated the people of the McMaster community.

Martin-Hill’s current research focuses on Indigenous knowledge and cultural conservation, Indigenous women, traditional medicine and health and the contemporary practice of Indigenous traditionalism. 

In a recent interview with Mongabay, Martin-Hill explained how she was inspired to do the work she does.

“I am an anthropologist in my field research. I worked in northern Alberta, which was dealing with the oil industry and the logging industry. I spent a lot of time up there and saw the destruction to their land and the impact it was having on the community and how they had no resources whatsoever. But yet they managed to get to the [United Nations]. They managed to get decisions against Canada. I was impressed with the fortitude,” said Martin-Hill.

Martin-Hill noted the contrast between what she saw while working in northern Alberta and the conversations happening at university. 

“When you see people putting everything on the line for the land and then you go to university and it’s all very ivory tower and theoretical — it made no sense to me,” said Martin-Hill. 

In 2007, Martin-Hill wrote a book known as The Lubicon Lake Nation: Indigenous Knowledge and Power to give a voice to the Lubicon Nation, a Cree First Nation in Northern Alberta. The book aims to illustrate the history of the Lubicon using its documented history and talk about the hurdles they face from the Canadian government. 

At McMaster, Martin-Hill has made her research focus centered on issues faced by Indigenous communities. Currently, she is working on Ohneganos, a Global Water Futures project that looks into Indigenous water research. The work they do aims to integrate western science with Indigenous and local knowledge.

“Our research uses an innovative research framework, informed by the Indigenous community partners, to facilitate sharing and integration of Western Science and Indigenous and Local Knowledges. This process of “co-creation” enables us to develop appropriate, place-based [and] sustainable solutions to the water crisis impacting our partner communities and other Indigenous communities across Turtle Island,” 

dr. dawn martin hill

The research focuses on two different projects. One of them is Co-creation of Indigenous Water Quality Tools. Within this research project, there are three different focuses: traditional ecological knowledge, ecosystem health and sensor system and data synthesis.

This specific water project aims to target the Six Nations of the Grand River, which is comprised of Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca and Tuscarora. It hopes to keep track of the water quality and environmental health of both areas. This can then be used to make models that help develop sustainable solutions. 

“Building capacity to monitor source waters with environmental sensors, we will investigate ecosystem health and the cause of health issues related to contaminated water, design inclusive poly-centric decision-making models for water governance and develop appropriate place-based sustainable solutions,” stated the Global Water Futures site.

Martin-Hill works tirelessly to advance the field of anthropology and shed light on the many injustices that Indigenous peoples face. The work she is currently doing ensures that information related to these injustices exist. At McMaster, Martin-Hill and other Indigenous researchers are what help educate the community on these issues that cannot be ignored.

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