In November 2017, York University and the Indigenous Council released the “Indigenous Framework for York University: A Guide to Action.” A visionary document, the Indigenous Framework was built on the University’s distinct values, traditions, history and vision. Specifically, it addressed the University Academic Plan and called for a pan-University Indigenous strategy. The framework also echoed broader initiatives within the post-secondary educational system in Ontario and Canada, including the Principles on Indigenous Education developed by Universities Canada in 2015.
Since its release in 2017, School of Social Work Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green, who is special advisor to President Rhonda Lenton on Indigenous Initiatives, has been hard at work engaging in broad consultations with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to vet and explore the principles contained in the Indigenous Framework. She has hosted two community engagement sessions that were attended by hundreds of faculty, staff, students and Indigenous community members. Each of the engagement sessions explored different aspects of the framework and sourced input from attendees. Koleszar-Green, working with Vice-Provost Alice Pitt and Lorna Schwartzentruber from the Office of the Vice-Provost, collated data, reviewed responses, input, and navigated the complex hierarchy of the Academy to prepare a report back to the framework. Koleszar-Green working on the report while simultaneously carrying out her own teaching and academic work and parenting her two children ages 9 and 7.
“The report back to the framework has been accepted by the Indigenous Council and the Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps,” said Koleszar-Green. She said the University community should note that the newly released report is not a ‘final’ document but instead it is an evaluation of the framework as outlined in Principle 10 of the framework.
The Indigenous Framework was developed by the Indigenous Council, an independent body that advises the University on Indigenous initiatives, with the support from other Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Koleszar-Green co-chaired the Indigenous Council until May 1 with Faculty of Heath Professor Sean Hillier (she is now preparing to go on sabbatical) and she has been the central figure organizing the community engagement sessions, which addressed 10 key principles. The principles are:
- Expand the role of the Indigenous Council
- Increase the number of Indigenous Faculty
- Enhance the recruitment and academic success of Indigenous students
- Expand Indigenous programming and curricular offerings which explore Indigenous life, cultures and traditions
- Facilitate research that is relevant to Indigenous life, and respects Indigenous approaches to knowledge and learning
- Engage with Indigenous communities to enrich the learning process
- Establish spaces for Indigenous cultures and community within the University
- Ensure that the perceptions and experiences of Indigenous community members are reflected in the classroom, on campus and in university life
- Develop and expand educational opportunities for Indigenous communities
- Ensure the process for developing, implementing, and evaluating this framework involves Indigenous community members, both within and outside the University
“This report is to ensure that there is continued discussion on the importance of the framework, which is not a one-time document,” explained Koleszar-Green, “it is a forward-thinking document and intended to deepen the University’s commitment to Indigenization. The framework came out of the work of the Indigenous Council and was then engaged (warmly) by the University. This is why we wrote the document and then held community engagement sessions. I also presented the framework at Senate with Vice-Provost Pitt and to all faculty councils.
“I am happy with the response to the framework as it has been engaged in many ways and this is one reason for this two-year report back to the document,” she noted. “We [Indigenous Council] are hoping that other people can see how the framework has been taken up and can find themselves reflected in it. One important example of this engagement is that the framework has been included as an institutional guiding document in the new University Academic Plan.
“I think that the principles of the Indigenous Framework are to be engaged. As we develop relationships and programs that further Indigenization, the framework becomes more and more dynamic. Since writing this framework report, there have been other important actions taken such as the new curriculum review process that was co-created with the Faculties of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and Health,” said Koleszar-Green. “There is the inclusion of the Indigenous Framework in the Research Strategic Plan and a new Organized Research Unit on Indigeneity that is in the process of being chartered, starting in July 2021.”
She hopes that every member of the York University community will take the time to read both the Indigenous Framework and this newly released report. “I think that reading the document and thinking deeply about the implications of colonization in education would be an excellent outcome,” said Koleszar-Green, who noted that everyone has obligations to the decolonization of education.
“In a perfect world, this framework would be seen as speaking to all staff, students and faculty members,” said Koleszar-Green. “They would see that there are responsibilities and relationships for everyone.”
To read both the Indigenous Framework and the report, visit the Indigenous at York University website and follow the links.