Advancing indigenous education at the University of Manitoba is an important and necessary discussion. As the U of M’s former executive lead on indigenous achievement, a position I proudly held for five years, I believe in the work so many of the university’s faculty, staff, students and community members have dedicated themselves to for the advancement of indigenous education and research.

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This article was published 9/12/2016 (1618 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Advancing indigenous education at the University of Manitoba is an important and necessary discussion. As the U of M’s former executive lead on indigenous achievement, a position I proudly held for five years, I believe in the work so many of the university’s faculty, staff, students and community members have dedicated themselves to for the advancement of indigenous education and research.

I refrained from commenting on "Strong commitment needed to all areas of indigenous education" (Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 14) while the U of M and the University of Manitoba Faculty Association were in conciliation. During the association’s strike, emotions were understandably high, and now with an agreement reached and the strike over, the time has come for mending relationships, re-establishing trust and respect and rebuilding bridges.

Canada is entering a new era of relationship building between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Through increased dialogue and greater awareness, all Canadians are beginning to understand the complexity of historical, social and economic issues indigenous peoples continue to face. Reconciliation is something many people are thinking about, and they are asking: why didn’t I know about residential schools? What is reconciliation? What can I do to help?

Canadian universities, colleges and schools are asking these same questions. Each institution should take responsibility for looking at how to integrate indigenous history, perspectives and knowledge into its curricula. The creation of senior leadership positions within the academy is one way institutions are forging new indigenous pathways to planning.

Equally important is to create new or more indigenous spaces in our learning environments. It is also not a one-size-fits-all model, either. Each learning institution must develop its own indigenous-education framework that meets the needs of its student body. Curriculum must also reflect the history, diversity and indigenous languages of that particular area, as our nations are not homogenous.

I believe the U of M is leading innovative approaches to indigenize all areas of learning through inclusive curriculum development, creating more indigenous spaces, celebrating indigenous alumni and developing a rich array of indigenous student supports. I witnessed the commitment from every faculty and its leadership, senior administration, as well the full support from the broader non-academic community such as student services, the alumni association, marketing and communication and the various student associations — indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

The U of M’s commitment to indigenous achievement is reflected in its five-year strategic plan called Taking Our Place. It clearly outlines and details concrete steps on how it plans to move forward on advancing indigenous achievement in all areas of university life. It also commits to working with all faculties across campus to integrate knowledge and perspectives into the curriculum so every student who graduates from the U of M will have a greater awareness and understanding of indigenous peoples.

The role of native (indigenous) studies and indigenous scholars, many of whom work in different disciplines across the academy, are critical to advance this important work. Indigenous scholars teach students on a variety of subjects relating to the indigenous experience both from a historical and contemporary perspective. Indigenous and non-indigenous academics advance and undertake groundbreaking research in the areas of indigeneity, indigenous ways of being and indigenous methodology. Finally, indigenous studies and scholars can also act as advocates to further indigenous consciousness in the academy and outside it.

However, if change is to occur throughout the academy, then it must be an institute-wide responsibility that relies on the collective commitment to make it happen. This responsibility should not fall on one department to lead the discussion as it involves all in a respectful conversation.

Without a doubt, more must be done to advance indigenous education. Decolonizing the academy will take years. It will evolve and adapt over time. Mistakes will be made, and, hopefully, we will learn from those mistakes. More investments must also be made in all areas — student supports, mental-health supports, research — and definitely more indigenous faculty and support staff must be hired.

Allying with non-indigenous people is key. Providing tools and resources to non-indigenous scholars on how to respectfully integrate indigenous perspectives into course content, research and curricula is critical if students are to graduate with greater awareness of the history and contemporary issues of indigenous peoples of Canada.

As a Cree woman, it is difficult to see and feel push-back from the non-indigenous community, but if we stop and look at what we have achieved, rather than feeling disappointed from the setbacks, it should encourage us to do more. But it is even more difficult and more upsetting when the push-back comes from our own indigenous community. The truest form of reconciliation is to listen to each other and to collaborate and work together respectfully.

Deborah G. Young is a member of Opaskwayak Cree Nation. She currently resides in Ottawa and is in full-time French-language school.