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A 17-metre red cedar Reconciliation Pole is raised at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., on April 1, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/CP) Ruth Koleszar-Green likes to remind those on the York University campus how far Indigenous people have come in academia within a generation.

Koleszar-Green, an assistant professor in York’s school of social work, who is Haudenosaunee, recounts how her mother started at York in 1969, but the experience was so “horribly violent” that she did not complete her degree. “But now, one generation later, I’m chairing the Indigenous Council and am sitting at dinner with the [university] president, as I sometimes challenge her belief and understandings of Indigeneity,” she said.

As she talks, the professor prepares for a ceremony to celebrate the birth of a sweat lodge built recently on campus. Her children will attend. “My kids are getting fire-keeping teachings with knowledge keepers on the university campus, and my mother couldn’t stay here because it was so violent.”

Koleszar-Green, who has been on faculty since 2014, contributed to the university’s Indigenous Framework launched last fall. York, alongside many Canadian universities, has undertaken efforts to address the Calls to Action contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s final report in 2015. Schools are now considering ways to approach Indigenization—broadly defined as incorporating Indigenous worldviews, knowledge and perspectives. The varying ways they approach this task can be considered three points along a spectrum, according to a study recently published in AlterNative , an international peer-reviewed journal. They range from simply hiring more Indigenous staff to “decolonial Indigenization,” a radical rethinking of post-secondary education.

The research began when Adam Gaudry, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, who is Métis, and Danielle Lorenz, a Ph.D. candidate at the U of A, compared their experiences of teaching Indigenous courses. They were “remarkably different,” says Lorenz. The grad student, who is non-Indigenous, found her classes did not believe facts about the legacy of residential schools or the high number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system. “It’s difficult for non-Indigenous people because it’s challenging their understanding of Canada,” she said.

Gaudry and Lorenz decided to survey their academic peers on their experiences in Indigenizing their respective institutions. The survey ultimately collected 25 responses from across Canada and the United States, with three respondents identifying as non-Indigenous allies. (None of the academics interviewed for this article are respondents.)

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The first approach explored by the study, Indigenous inclusion, seeks to increase the number of Indigenous faculty, students and staff in Canadian academe, while maintaining its existing structures. It is the predominant approach, but the least transformative. “Indigenous students, faculty and staff [are] expected to adapt to the intellectual worldview, teaching and research styles of the academy,” the co-authors wrote.

A step beyond is “reconciliation Indigenization,” in which there is an attempt to alter a university’s structure. Approaches in this category include the establishment of advisory or reconciliation committees that set goals for Indigenization or the implementation of mandatory Indigenous-content courses.

That approach describes UBC as a whole, according to Daniel Justice, a Colorado-born citizen of the Cherokee Nation who is also a Canadian citizen and has been on the UBC faculty since 2012. UBC has had an Indigenous strategic plan in place since 2009 and worked to hire and recruit more Indigenous faculty and students before the TRC released its report. In April, it unveiled the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre on its Vancouver campus. But Justice has heard reports of backlash from faculty on territorial acknowledgements, and on bringing Indigenous voices to the forefront. “I think […]

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