The University of Alberta is launching a strategic plan to respond to the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report.
Braiding Past, Present and Future: University of Alberta Indigenous Strategic Plan aims to dismantle colonial structures in the university that have long “disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples of their legal, social, cultural, religious and ethnic rights.”
The plan includes concrete measures to reclaim Indigenous identity, languages, cultures and worldviews. The plan also makes clear that its goals – along with all Indigenous initiatives at the University of Alberta – must be Indigenous-led.
Under the direction of Florence Glanfield, vice-provost of Indigenous programming and research, and the Indigenous Advisory Council, the release of Braiding Past, Present and Future follows more than two years of broad dialogues with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and organizations, along with representatives from all university faculties and portfolios.
Glanfield recalls that when she first arrived at the U of A to study mathematics in 1976, one department member said to her, “I didn’t think you people could do mathematics.”
“This plan is trying to change that narrative and the experiences of the university’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, communities, nations, lands, languages and knowledge systems,” she said.
“The university is a colonial structure, and this plan hopes to break down some of those colonial barriers that have existed for Indigenous peoples, nations and communities to fully participate.”
The university will set targets to increase the number of Indigenous students and faculty on campus and integrate Indigenous knowledge across university curricula. It will also develop research ethics principles in collaboration with Indigenous communities.
“This plan will make sure that we incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous knowledge in all that we do throughout the University of Alberta,” says president Bill Flanagan.
According to deputy provost Wendy Rodgers, the plan means Indigenous knowledge will no longer be a “special consideration in addition to whatever we are doing that is considered core – it will be part of the core, part of everything the university does.”
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Instructors must be aware of Indigenous knowledge systems and how long-entrenched disciplinary knowledge can be challenged, adds Glanfield. “If we bring in different worldviews, we can’t but create a new, better and just society.”
Phil Mozejko, executive chair of the U of A’s Indigenous Graduate Students’ Association, says his organization has endorsed the plan with “guarded optimism.”
“It remains to be seen how it plays out, but we think the document itself is excellent; it captures the right ethos for this new relationship building.”
What impresses him most, adds Mozejko, are the provisions in the plan for ensuring accountability.
“Measurement and accountability are really important,” says Rodgers. “It’s why we have clear goals and regular ways of measuring and reporting on them, so the entire community is aware of what we were aiming to do and how well we did against those aspirations.”
The theme of the plan – looking to the past, in-powering the present, and imagining the future – is grounded in Sweetgrass Teachings, says Glanfield. It pays tribute to the strength and resilience of “those who came before” while recognizing “our responsibilities to the generations to come, knowing that we have the power to leave them a beautiful legacy.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report of 2015 – released after the commission heard testimony from thousands of residential school survivors across the country – calls for a “renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”
The report includes 94 calls to action – among them educating people about the history and legacy of the residential school system – to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
| By Geoff McMaster
Geoff is a reporter with the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.
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