Indigenization and The University of Saskatchewan

Senator Murray Sinclair, then Commissioner of the TRC

Peter Stoicheff was the first University President to make the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, June 2015) at a postsecondary institution a priority in Canada.

"We cannot deem [our] role a success unless we become a force of change for aboriginal education. None of it matters unless we achieve this. The educational gap is too great, the moral imperative is too strong, for us not to play our part."
President Peter Stoicheff, Summer of 2015

This institutional commitment to indigenize academia has been integrated into the University’s Institutional plan as a strategic pillar, a pillar equal to discovery, teaching and learning, and engagement . Which has brought about new innovative initiatives in many, if not most, of our colleges, schools and departments.

The University of Saskatchewan has a long history of supporting and being supported by the Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan, but we must do more and we must do it now!

What is Indigenization?

So … What is indigenization (spelled with a small ‘i')?

For many, this word, indigenization, is not well understood and often provokes feelings of tension, confusion and even distrust. The dissonance associated with the ideas of indigenization is found for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and it is tied to many concerns:

  • Concern that it is a form of reverse assimilation or colonization; our education systems will be deconstructed and replaced with an Indigenous system
  • Concern that we must lessen or perverse our rigorous approach to sciences, humanities, arts, and the social sciences to accommodate Indigenous perspectives
  • Concern that individuals are expected to love and know Indigenous Peoples and culture

A more accurate understanding of indigenization would be a deeper, fuller, and more accurate understanding of world (ontology) and beliefs about knowledge (epistemology). Much like how qualitative methodology challenged and complimented quantitative approaches to research, the inclusion of Indigenous relativistic approaches to knowledge will challenge and contribute to Western understandings of knowledge and truth.

Like any paradigm shift, the faculty, staff and leadership at the University of Saskatchewan will have to explore and engage in transformational changes that are necessary for guaranteeing the 1) ongoing support of Indigenous students’ success and 2) the integration of Indigenous perspectives, worldviews, and knowledges into Western curricula. There are several factors that should be considered when developing indigenization initiatives.

Indigenization is:

  • A multi-staged institutional initiative that supports societal reconciliation
  • An intentional, culturally sensitive and appropriate approach to adding Indigenous ideas, concepts, and practices into curricula, when and where it is appropriate
  • A strategic set of changes to policies, procedures and practices that increase inclusion, break down barriers and realign institutional, college and school outcomes without harm to previously established goals
  • An iterative developmental approach to understanding Canada’s colonial history and the more contemporary issues impacting Indigenous people. Engaging in critical reflections from a professional and/or personal perspective about how to build safe and ethical spaces for Indigenous knowledges, worldviews, and practices
  • An absolute necessity for the province of Saskatchewan where the Indigenous youth represent a substantial number of future University students; Indigenous school age children will represent 40% to 50% of the provincial population by 2040-50

An Indigenous Faculty Definition of Indigenization

Received by University Council in February 2017

Indigenizing within the University of Saskatchewan is a proactive and dynamic process for engaging faculty, staff and students to:

  • Strengthen inclusive communities and partnerships that respect and understand the value and importance of Indigenous knowledges and practices (e.g. histories, teachings, languages, traditions, ceremonies, protocols, creative expressions, etc.) belonging to the diverse peoples of Saskatchewan and beyond, and that recognize that academia benefits by valuing and including pluralistic ways of knowing, thinking, and doing;
  • Engage in critical reflection of the colonial history and systemic effects on Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including Treaty relationships and Métis and Inuit land rights;
  • Operationalize the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to enact a transformative reconciliation of the University of Saskatchewan’ s commitment to inclusion and authentic voice and engagement of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Saskatchewan and beyond; and
  • Promote and support Indigenous visions and aspirations for self-determination through transformative education for Indigenous well-being, growth and prosperity.

Support for Indigenization

Indigenous Voices & The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning

“It was the educational system that contributed to this problem in this country and it is the educational system that is going to help us to get away from it”.
Senator Murray Sinclair, then Commissioner of the TRC

The Indigenous Voices and the Gwenna Moss Centre team provide strategic and constructive support to academic leaders, faculty, and staff who are looking to develop or enhance their indigenization initiatives (for more information, see Indigenizing Academia). Our consultations and programs are uniquely tailored to the specific needs of faculty, instructors or academic units. This allows us to consider time restraints, levels of understanding and ability, and learning or program outcomes in the support we offer.

We help the University campus to explore key elements that are necessary components for good outcomes, for example the:

  • Level of awareness and understanding of the truth of Canada’s treatment and relationship with its Indigenous Peoples
  • Ability and level of engagement, direct and indirect, with Indigenous Peoples, their knowledges, worldviews, and perspectives
  • Level of strategic design and impactful outcomes for decolonization and indigenization initiatives
  • Alignment between educator, academic unit, and institutional indigenizing strategies and support for reconciliation
  • Alignment between program- and course-level curricula
  • Alignment of services offered to student, staff and faculty in support of indigenized teaching and learning initiatives

Indigenous Voices Team

Dr. Rose Roberts
Edu. Development Specialist
Dr. Rose Roberts
Cree (Woodland)
Elder Maria Campbell
Cultural Advisor
Elder Maria Campbell
Métis
Dr. Stryker Calvez
Manager, Indigenous Edu. Initiatives
Dr. Stryker Calvez
Michif/Métis

Indigenous Voices is a unique team of Indigenous leaders who are dedicated to creating a shared space for dialogue, learning, and collaborative action to catalyze individual and systemic change at the University of Saskatchewan.

Indigenous Voices Program

Indigenous Voices – Common Ground Programming

Our work is grounded and informed by the Original Indigenous Voices program.

This approach to programming is based on the extensive consultation and collaboration between Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers and Indigenous and allied senior leaders, faculty, staff and students at the University of Saskatchewan. The program goals are to provide four types of information sessions that are fundamental to providing culturally appropriate and relevant understandings about Indigenous histories, cultures, and worldviews into university curricula. The four focal points are Place and Culture, Indigenous Land Agreements, Power and Privilege, and Indigenous Education.

We continue to offer these learning opportunities online though the links below. We highly recommend that those people interested in supporting indigenization initiatives take the time to review all four topics.

Indigenous Voices Online Learning Modules

This is a series of interactive modules that you can do on your own to begin your learning journey. The intent of the modules is to present knowledge of historical and contemporary context, such that you can then participate in the other in-person programming offered through Indigenous Voices. Each module will take you approximately 3 hours, and it is recommended you give yourself a few days between each module. You will need time to absorb and reconcile the information. It is not the intention that taking these modules will replace in-person interaction with Indigenous Voices staff, it is merely the initial step.

Indigenous Education
Land Agreements

This module provides information and context on the history and current state of Indigenous education in Canada. The governmental policies and how they affected First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, including the residential school legacy, are presented.

This module provides information about Métis scrip, Inuit land agreements and nation-to-nation treaty relationships. These land agreements are explored within the historical context and understanding from Indigenous peoples perspective, and the implications for the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

Power and Privilege
Place and Culture

The information in this module begins with an exploration into colonialism in its broadest understanding of colonizing a new territory, then foraying into the deeper, often hidden effects of long term colonization on Indigenous peoples. The concepts of whiteness, power and privilege will be explained, with examples of real life stories being brought in to elucidate the concepts.

This module presents the importance of land and culture to the survival of Indigenous Peoples as a distinct group from the rest of Canadian society. The focus of this module is Saskatchewan based, as that is where the campuses of the University of Saskatchewan are situated.

Tailored Indigenous Voices Programming

In today’s changing and digitally-connected society, people have different levels of awareness of Canada’s colonial past. For example, incoming students have often spent many years in the K-12 system learning about Indigenous Peoples and the impacts of colonialism through newly emerging resources. Their understanding and starting point for many of the conversations found in higher education today is greater than many people who came from a time when these truths and learning opportunities were ignored, withheld, or unavailable. As more Canadians come to terms with their past and as Indigenous peoples continue to rebuild their communities with all of its knowledge, history, and worldviews, there is no complete picture of what a reconciled Canada looks like to guide us. Each one of us - old and young, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, educated and less educated – holds a piece of the puzzle and must learn how to share these puzzle pieces with others. Therefore, the first step in indigenizing the University of Saskatchewan is to come together to share our truths, learn from each other, to build supportive relationships and to piece together what reconciliation can and should be.

There is no one-approach-fits-all model for indigenizing a lesson plan, course, curriculum, learning program, or academic unit. In order to support the broad set of needs that come from a variety of perspectives at the University, Indigenous Voices offers tailored support. Our tailored programming engages, enlightens, and supports faculty and staff to explore four layers of themed knowledge:

  • Aboriginal peoples in Saskatchewan: including languages, cultures, histories, and relationships with governments;
  • The Indigenous renaissance of reclaiming and restoring Indigenous knowledges, languages, cultures, and governance;
  • Aboriginal learners and the role of professional identities in creating in a postcolonial Canada; and
  • Decolonizing pedagogies and the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing in curricula and assessment.

The Indigenous Voices team offers:

  • Advice and guidance to individuals (faculty, instructors, staff, and administrators), departments, colleges, schools, and service areas
  • Numerous information sessions and workshops for course and curriculum development
  • Numerous professional development workshops to academic units (departments, colleges, schools, and service areas)
  • Supports the development of community partnerships as resources for indigenization initiatives and curricula development.

If you would like to discuss a potential engagement, contact Stryker Calvez from Indigenous Voices at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Program Successes

2015-2017: University Library Indigenous Voices

We completed our first tailored program with the University Library. Staff and faculty developed deeper understanding of their own culture, improved their capacity to work productively across cultures, and successfully planned and implemented several indigenization projects in the library during the program.