On October 24, 2019, Active History commenced a series on education “after” residential schools with an article written by Clinton Debogorski, Magdalena Milosz, Martha Walls and Karen Bridget Murray. The series is open-ended. Active History welcomes additional contributions on related themes.
By Amy Bell, Scott Cameron, and Thomas Peace
The filing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report marked a watershed moment when Canadian universities began to respond to calls for recognition and reconciliation. Land acknowledgements recognizing the link between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have gradually spread to universities across Canada, and university administrations have begun processes of self-auditing and consultation with Indigenous communities and nations.
Three weeks after the TRC report, Universities Canada, which represents the leadership of 96 universities across Canada, published a set of thirteen principles on Indigenous post-secondary education to advance opportunities for Indigenous students in post secondary institutions and integrate Indigenous themes and topics throughout the academy. In 2017, eighty percent of their member universities self-reported that they were conducting activities to promote intercultural engagement through cultural activities, events and forums, talking circles, competency or reconciliation training; just under seventy percent were developing strategic plans for advancing reconciliation; and two-thirds were working to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and methods into research projects and classrooms on campus.
These initiatives range from teach-ins on Indigenous law and practice at the University of Waterloo, to University of Toronto’s hiring of an outreach librarian to work with Indigenous students, communities and collections, to the University of Alberta’s Massive Open Online Course [MOOC], Indigenous Canada, which explores contemporary issues and Canadian history from Indigenous perspectives and can be audited for free.
Broader initiatives include greater outreach and recruitment within Indigenous communities, developing curricula specific to Indigenous cultures, hiring more Indigenous faculty positions and incorporating Indigenous representation in university governance. Both Ryerson University and Acadia University have, for example, committed to long-term decolonization strategies that will incorporate these types of systemic changes (Acadia Launches, 2018, Truth and Reconciliation, 2018). They require a long-term financial and resource commitment, a willingness to consult and listen to Indigenous communities, and an openness to structural change.
But what happens when your home university is not able to, or is unwilling, to engage institutionally with the Calls to Action? Continue reading