York University launches Indigenous Framework, appoints special advisor to the president on Indigenous initiatives

York University will further its commitment to equity and social justice with the launch of its Indigenous Framework and the appointment of a special advisor to the president on Indigenous initiatives.

The Indigenous Framework for York University is the culmination of several years’ work by members of York’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and the engagement of Indigenous community partners. It builds on the University’s distinct values, traditions, history and vision.

In June, York University’s Hart House was renamed Skennen’kó:wa Gamig or the House of Great Peace. It is on the traditional territory of several Indigenous nations

The framework addresses the recently adopted University Academic Plan (UAP) and its call for a pan-University Indigenous strategy. It echoes broader initiatives within the postsecondary educational system in Ontario and Canada, including the “Principles on Indigenous Education” developed by Universities Canada in 2015.

“The Indigenous Framework makes an important contribution to our shared commitment to reconciliation and to fostering stronger connections with and support for the Indigenous community at York and beyond,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “It is an important milestone in a continuing process that will see the 10 principles put into action. This new framework will advance our vision of being a connected University through expanded participation of Indigenous students, faculty and staff, as well as increased engagement with Indigenous knowledge and communities. More broadly, the framework embodies the four pillars I believe are foundational to York’s success in the years ahead – excellence, access, connectedness and impact.”

Students from Kiiwednong Aboriginal Head Start planted handmade hearts in the Heart Garden at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig

Integral to York’s pan-university framework is the need to engage Indigenous communities both inside and outside York. Engaging Indigenous students, staff and faculty will help to enrich teaching and research, as well as all students’ learning experiences.

“The release of our framework is a significant step forward for York, as it reaffirms what we can achieve and aspire to when the University works respectfully and in collaboration with Indigenous communities,” said interim Vice-President Academic and Provost Lisa Philipps. “The framework was developed in partnership with York’s Indigenous Council, engaging both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members at York, and has created a strong foundation from which we will continue to build upon in response to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action.”

The Indigenous Framework’s 10 recommendations are as follows:

  1. Expand the role of the Indigenous Council.
  2. Increase the number of Indigenous faculty.
  3. Enhance the recruitment and academic success of Indigenous students.
  4. Expand Indigenous programming and curricular offerings which explore Indigenous life, cultures and traditions.
  5. Facilitate research that is relevant to Indigenous life, and respects Indigenous approaches to knowledge and learning.
  6. Engage with Indigenous communities to enrich the learning process.
  7. Establish spaces for Indigenous cultures and community within the University.
  8. Ensure that the perceptions and experiences of Indigenous community members are reflected in the classroom, on campus and in university life.
  9. Develop and expand educational opportunities for Indigenous communities.
  10. Ensure the process for developing, implementing and evaluating this framework involves Indigenous community members both within and outside the University.

The entire Indigenous Framework document can be viewed online.

The framework will be shared through a series of Community Engagement Sessions throughout 2018, where community members can provide feedback and support the University to develop strategies and approaches that fulfill the framework’s recommendations. Community engagement sessions will be organized into three themes: Teaching and Learning; Research; and Arts, History and Language. Each session will be co-facilitated by an Indigenous faculty member and a senior administrator.

Ruth Koleszar-Green

Ruth Koleszar-Green

To support the framework’s community engagement process and implementation, the University has appointed Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green as special advisor to the president on Indigenous initiatives.

“I welcome Prof. Koleszar-Green into this new role,” said Lenton. “She demonstrates a commitment to working with and across the University, and her expertise will be invaluable as we engage the broader community in dialogue to develop concrete actions that will welcome and embed Indigenous knowledge at York.”

Koleszar-Green, co-chair, Indigenous Council at York U and professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LAPS), is a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. She is from the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) nation and is a member of the Turtle Clan. She holds a master’s in social work from Ryerson University and a PhD from the University of Toronto/OISE in adult education and community development. She began teaching in 2008 and has been a faculty member at York since 2014.

Koleszar-Green identifies as an urban Indigenous person, who has strong ties to the Toronto urban community where she has lived and worked for over 20 years. She has been an academic advisor to Indigenous students at Ryerson, and has supported Indigenous women and children impacted by family violence. She has also worked with Indigenous youth around issues of food security. She is an active member of the Aboriginal Legal Services Community Council, where she facilitates restorative justice spaces.

Koleszar-Green has served as a member on the Ontario Income Security Working Group for the Ministry of Community & Social Services. She has co-chaired the Indigenous Council at York for the past two years.

“I am very honoured to accept this appointment, as I see it as public declaration of commitment by President Lenton and the University in supporting and advancing Indigenous students, staff and faculty,” said Koleszar-Green. “The Indigenous Framework calls for an expansion of the Indigenous Council, as it can play a pivotal role in helping to advance the University’s reconciliation and Indigeneity agenda and this appointment is in line to do just that.”

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