Tommy Happynook Receives His PhD

Submitted by Tommy Happynook

I have always had an interest in anthropology and right out of high school started working towards an undergraduate degree. My post-secondary journey was full of starts and stops.

I attended Camosun College for one term before stopping to work as a roofer for about a year before returning to Camosun for another two years.

I was able to complete the first two years of my undergraduate degree at Camosun and decided to accept an offer to work in the forest industry.

I worked in forestry for about two and a half years before I decided to go back and finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria. Two years later, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology.

That same year, I was accepted into, and started my graduate degree, in anthropology at UVic. After two and half years, I graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology. At this point, I needed a break and was hired to work at Camosun College.

I worked for Indigenous Education at Camosun College for about 10 years as a community liaison, advisor, and instructor. In 2017, I applied to UVic’s anthropology doctoral program. In 2020, I was hired by the UVic’s Anthropology Department and have been working there since June 2021. I completed my doctoral program in April 2022 and now have a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Anthropology.


My research documents the reclamation of knowledge, teachings, culture, language, responsibilities, and identity through my personal (re)connection to my family’s ḥ aḥ uułi and hereditary home, čaačaac̓iiʕas. In specific and intentional ways my research, fieldwork, and dissertation are part of a story of reconciliation between myself and čaačaac̓iiʕas, the ḥ aḥ uułi that my family was dispossessed from because of the impacts of colonization.

Despite the near severing of our relationship with čaačaac̓iiʕas and the near destruction of our ḥ aḥ uułi, čaačaac̓iiʕas is thriving, and now is the time to pick up my responsibilities and begin to re-establish a relationship with the natural and spiritual worlds found there. In my research the lands, waters, skies, and natural world are not a place and/or object of inquiry, they are non-human knowledge holders and teachers.


My research draws upon a diverse set of ethnographic, anthropological, and Indigenous literatures. Emphasis is placed upon the use of nuučaan̓uł scholarship, theory, and methodologies including muułmuumps (being rooted to the land), ceremony, language, song, and interviews. The research builds on four kinds of knowledge that are expressed as: 1) known knowledge; 2) incomplete knowledge; 3) unaccounted for and/or unknown knowledge; and, 4) ethnographic/anthropological knowledge.

Through this theoretical platform, I explore tangible and intangible cultural and hereditary forms of knowledge production. Importantly, I highlight the role of song and sound as critical vehicles through which contemporary Indigenous peoples can connect to historical places and times.

I place equal emphasis on the production of sound through song as I do through the reception of song and sound through a methodology of deep listening. Song and sound play a crucial role in my research and form the basis of knowledge transfer between myself, čaačaac̓iiʕas, and my yakʷiimit kʷiyiis nananiiqsu (ancestors).

Furthermore, the songs I received during my research are the analysis of my data and how I am choosing to disseminate that data. I argue that these connections provide ways for future agendas and aspirations for cultural resurgence and governance to emerge.