Why Higher Ed Indigenization Matters


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In the wake of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission findings, higher ed is realizing just how much work lies ahead if it is to reconcile itself with Indigenous peoples, and indigenize the curriculum. Saskatchewan, where some projections say that 30% of the population will be Indigenous by the year 2045, is in many ways the epicentre of indigenization.

This week, Ken Steele talks with Vianne Timmons, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina, to better understand why Indigenization matters.

Vianne grew up in Labrador and is of Mi’kmaq heritage, but Ken is quite conscious of being a white settler of European ancestry. How can non-Indigenous people get over their reticence to talk about a challenging subject? Vianne reassures us that people appreciate genuine interest and a desire to learn, even if they make errors in protocol.

The University of Regina has been Indigenizing for 40 years. Vianne has an Executive Lead – Indigenization who reports directly to her office, and an Aboriginal Advisory Circle that provides feedback. “Shoulder to shoulder we work together to Indigenize our campus.” The latest UofR strategic plan, “peyak aski kikawinaw”, has Indigenization as a top priority.

First Nations University is a federated college of the University of Regina, independent administratively, but integrated academically. In 2009 there were unsubstantiated allegations of mismanagement that led the federal and provincial governments to suspend FNUC’s funding. Indigenous communities and students protested, and the University of Regina stepped up to assume administrative oversight of FNUC for five years until it regained its independence. Now FNUC is financially stable, with solid leadership and growing enrolment. The UofR was presented with an Eagle Staff as a symbol to thank them for their advocacy, but also to challenge them to continue being warriors for truth and reconciliation, and Indigenous education rights.

The UofR’s Aboriginal Advisory Circle defines Indigenization as “the transformation of the existing academy by including indigenous knowledges, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials, as well as the establishment of physical and epistemic spaces that facilitate the ethical stewardship of a plurality of indigenous knowledges and practices so thoroughly as to constitute an essential element of the university. Indigenization is not limited to Indigenous people, but encompasses all students and faculty, for the benefit of our academic integrity and our social viability.” (See https://www.uregina.ca/strategic-plan/priorities/indigenization.html)

So to truly Indigenize, institutions need to include Indigenous peoples as students, faculty, and staff; include Indigenous scholarship and perspectives in curriculum; provide physical and symbolic spaces dedicated to Indigenous use; and re-think the foundations of the academy.

Indigenous peoples are the founding people of Canada, and institutions need to reflect their country – but Indigenization benefits ALL students. It provides them with a better appreciation of First Nations peoples, a more nuanced understanding of historical truth, and prepares them for a world in which indigenous peoples and settlers are truly reconciled. “There is so much that went unsaid in our past, that needs to be spoken in our future.”

Vianne Timmons began her teaching career on the Babine First Nations Reserve in BC, and was appointed President of the University of Regina in 2008. She has helped advance Indigenization through dozens of initiatives, and two successive strategic plans. Vianne is one of 12 recipients of the national 2019 Indspire Award.

Shot on location at First Nations University, on the University of Regina campus, in October 2018, by campus videography staff – thank you again!

Next week, Ken’s conversation with Vianne Timmons continues, as we explore “100 Ways to Indigenize Your Campus.” To be sure you don’t miss it, subscribe today! http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/

And if you would like to host a 10K Site Visit at your campus, see http://eduvation.ca/twk/site-visits/for further information!

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