Last week, Ken Steele sat down with Vianne Timmons, president of the University of Regina, to discuss why Indigenization matters to higher ed. This week, we turn from “why” to “how”, and look at dozens of ways that colleges and universities can better accommodate Indigenous students, integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, and introduce all students to Indigenous perspectives.
This episode highlights more than 40 examples of ways in which non-Indigenous faculty, staff and administrators can help to indigenize the campus. The examples are drawn from “100 Ways to Indigenize and Decolonize Academic Programs and Courses,” a checklist developed for the UofR by Dr Shauneen Pete in 2015, when she was the University’s Executive Lead of Indigenization. You can also read Dr Pete’s article in Aboriginal Policy Studies vol. 6, no. 1, 2016.
Because every Indigenous person and community have had very different experiences, it is important to work with elders, knowledge-keepers, and Indigenous staff and faculty to develop approaches for your own context. Without a doubt, we need to recruit more Indigenous staff, faculty, students, and graduate students. A big part of the challenge is to overcome financial and geographic barriers for prospective students in remote communities. Specialized cohort programs can encourage student success. Sessional hires can prioritize Indigenous candidates.
There are many small things that cumulatively can improve the campus experience for Indigenous students. We can recognize Indigenous names and symbols on campus, acknowledge traditional lands, display Indigenous symbols and art. We can honour Indigenous alumni, nominate Indigenous scholars for awards, and recognize Elders with gifts and honoraria. We also may need to revise criteria for faculty promotion, perhaps by recognizing relational capital.
We can also incorporate traditional celebrations and events on campus, from major annual pow-wows to traditional feasts, smudging, and round-dances. These events should engage all students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and can be considered at the departmental level.
Every campus needs a gathering place for Indigenous students, where they can feel comfortable in their culture and share joys and challenges with each other and with elders. We can ensure that signage and promotional materials recognize Indigenous students’ languages and contributions. “You must invest financially in supports for Indigenous students,” says Timmons.
We can create some courses designed specifically for Indigenous learners, and make others mandatory on “shared work” such as settler-Indigenous relations and reconciliation. Professional schools need to insert mandatory courses, and pursue Indigenous language programs like First Nations University’s Denee Teacher Education Program.
The biggest challenge for settlers is to recognize our biases. Many of us have been raised in a Eurocentric culture, and we take capitalism and the scientific method for granted. Whiteness isn’t neutral, and we can help overcome students’ limitations by naming the dominant worldview, and ensuring that alternative perspectives are visible. Administrators can ensure that workshops, release time and financial supports are available for faculty interested in Indigenizing their courses. Faculty can co-teach with Indigenous elders, alumni and community members. We can establish Aboriginal Advisory Circles within each Faculty. Instructors can move away from lecture and try a circle format in class, or land-based learning. Even nontraditional evaluation methods, like performance or artistic expression, could be considered.
Ultimately Indigenization can’t just be the job of Indigenous people: it will only have succeeded when everyone on campus understands and advances it. Indigenous faculty and staff are already burdened with much extra work, and Indigenous students cannot be expected to fill in gaps in the curriculum. All of us know how to learn, and need to commit time and energy to the topic. Indigenous history is being written, and Dr Pete’s checklist includes a helpful bibliography of sources. All faculty should consciously seek out Indigenous scholarship in their field, and every campus leader has a responsibility to learn more about Indigenizing the academy.
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!
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