Alumni Profile: Chris Hiller

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Chris Hiller has been captivated with questions of justice since she was a kid. As a child, Chris felt an impulse to address injustice, engaging in social justice actions and leadership programs within her church and community. When she came to the University of Waterloo for her undergrad, she found PACS: a place that served as a launching point for her to explore questions of justice and peace through a range of disciplines, and in a way that was very grounding for her.

“PACS opened my mind and fuelled my passion for peace work,"

Chris says.

“The kinds of questions that surfaced for me during that degree—questions about power, difference, relationships, histories, responsibilities—those questions have stayed with me and animated my work all the way along my professional life”.

She found that Conrad Grebel provided her with a community that supported her values and aspirations, and this was exceptionally valuable to her as a student.

After graduating from UWaterloo in 1990 with a BA Honours in Psychology and a PACS minor, Chris remained in the Waterloo region for some time exploring different avenues of peace work. She found herself involved with faith and justice groups, activism against the Gulf War, and organizations addressing violence against women and girls. From there, Chris went to Washington D.C. as a Voluntary Service Worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and served as the Coordinator of Adult Education for Community of Hope, a community development organization committed to creating opportunities for low-income families experiencing homelessness. This work fully immersed Chris in efforts to grapple with race, racism, and white privilege. Coming back to Canada, Chris worked with Frontier College as the Coordinator of its national Family Literacy Program, where she supported provincial trainers in working with newcomer, low income, and Indigenous communities to create local literacy supports.

Five years after receiving her undergraduate degree, Chris went back to school to receive an MA in Sociology and Equity Studies from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. It was during this time that Chris began to explore intersecting relations of power, analyzing how systems of race, gender, class, and colonialism work to position particular bodies as marginal and vulnerable to violence, and questioning how such systems might be challenged. After that degree, Chris worked briefly with an organization serving newcomer women, and was then hired by the Anglican Church of Canada to coordinate a national program of education and advocacy in support of Indigenous land, treaty, and inherent rights. This work enabled her to collaborate with Indigenous and ecumenical partners in advocating for changes to federal Aboriginal policy; it also gave her opportunity to work alongside of Indigenous Elders, Indigenous church and community leaders, and Indigenous activists in holding the Church and broader society accountable for the colonial past and present, and in envisioning and working towards right relations.     

From there, Chris returned to school to pursue a PhD in Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University. At that time, her research involved interviewing non-Indigenous solidarity activists.  She sought to understand the experiences and processes by which settler Canadians come to rethink their identities, place, and responsibilities, both in light of settler colonial history and in relation to Indigenous peoples and their lands, sovereignty, and rights. After graduating, Chris worked for a time as Assistant Professor at Algoma University, where she prepared social work students to work in remote, northern, and Indigenous communities. Since returning to Guelph in 2016, she has worked as a researcher and part-time professor; this past fall, she was thrilled to come back to Grebel to teach a new course in Indigenous-settler conflict and peacebuilding for the MPACS program.  Her research continues to focus on Indigenous-settler relations, asking questions about what decolonization, reconciliation, and Treaty relations demand of us—in university classrooms and structures, in policy discussions and political debates, and in people-to-people relationships.  Just as she did as a child, Chris continues to be compelled by questions of how to move people towards justice:

“[My current work] seeks to understand how we get Canadians to shift in order to become open to questioning their understandings of history, their claims to space and place, and their identities as settler people”. 

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