The first Indigenous person to be appointed as chancellor at Hamilton's McMaster University says she's proud of the school for being a leader in the reconciliation movement.
Santee Smith, an Indigenous artist, dancer and choreographer who runs her own performance company, was named the next honorary leader of the university this week.
"My whole interest is in culture and connecting with like-minded people who are interested in bringing forward stories and narratives and positive changes for Indigenous people," she said. "This is a step in a very positive direction to have an Indigenous person as a chancellor."
Smith comes from the nearby Six Nations of the Grand River and will take up her position in November, while continuing with her regular workload.
"I've been involved in truth and reconciliation across the country and the educational calls to action, and people, including the ones at Mac, are doing just that — taking action as opposed to leaving it at words," Smith said.
Smith will be returning to the campus where she completed degrees in physical education and psychology before being drawn back into the arts.
She has been involved with the school for many years through its Indigenous Studies Program and more recently with the Socrates Project, a meeting of scholars, artists and diverse communities to tackle difficult subjects.
The school's president invited her to campus early in the new year, she said. She thought they were going to discuss the Socrates Project, but he asked her if she'd be interested in the position of chancellor, a role that involves presiding over convocations, sitting on various committees and being, in many ways, the public face of the school.
"I was very shocked," Smith said. "For me it means being able to connect back to the campus and being someone perhaps other students can look to for inspiration or advice."
McMaster president Patrick Deane said the entire McMaster community will learn from Smith.
"Santee is an inspirational choice, she is an accomplished artist, a seasoned leader and a passionate advocate," Deane said in a statement.
McMaster University is the second Canadian institution in as many weeks to announce that its next chancellor will be an Indigenous person.
Two weeks ago the University of Lethbridge announced that it was appointing its first Indigenous chancellor in the school's 52-year history.
Charles Weaselhead, a residential school survivor and former chief of the Blood Tribe, will officially assume that title in the spring.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press