Championing Indigenous voices and inclusion

Artwork by Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt
Artwork by Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt
Artwork by Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report. In reaching this milestone, there is opportunity to pause and reflect on actions taken to date and the ongoing commitment to change at York.

While indigenization varies across Ontario universities, incorporating Indigenous histories, cultures, knowledges, ways of knowing and being, traditions and culturally appropriate supports remains essential to responding to the TRC’s recommendations. Meeting the needs and challenges that educators face is also an important part of achieving success in these efforts.

To gain a better understanding of the experiences of Indigenous faculty members across Ontario universities and to provide an opportunity to enhance support for the inclusion of Indigenous voices and Peoples on campuses, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) undertook a survey of Indigenous faculty in 2019.

Findings were published this week in, Lighting the Fire: Experiences of Indigenous Faculty in Ontario Universities. The report offers valuable insights from colleagues across the sector and combined with reflections and perspectives from the community, it has the potential to help inform future strategies at the university.

Members of the York community, Indigenous staff and faculty, as well as Indigenous Council representatives have championed this work at York by participating in the survey and continuing to work towards ensuring that the university remains strongly inclusive of Indigenous Peoples, culture and knowledge.

The commitment to transformation touches all areas of university life, from governance to students, faculty and the wider community. York’s Indigenous Framework for York University: A Guide to Action sets a course for the university to increase the number of Indigenous faculty while enhancing recruitment efforts and the academic success of Indigenous students. It also prioritizes the expansion of Indigenous programming and curricular offerings that explore Indigenous life, culture and traditions.

While updates on progress continue to be made, at this five-year mark, great strides have been made towards achieving the objectives of the framework, as the University has:

  • Hired 15 Indigenous faculty members to advance knowledge and programming.
  • Chartering the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Languages (CIKL), which will be launched in summer 2021, to support both knowledge production and dissemination by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars.
  • Created a suite of programming, from the Waaban Indigenous Teacher Education BEd, to MEd and PhD programs in Urban Indigenous Education, an Indigenous Studies Program as well as a course for high school students that aims to forge positive relationships with self-identified Indigenous students.
  • Developed a Decolonizing Research Services Report, which made eight recommendations to the vice-president of research and innovation (VPRI) that are currently being implemented with guidance from the Indigenous Council.

While more work lies ahead, the commitment to advancing the goals of the framework remains strong. With the plans to create a new Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and other initiatives underway now, there will be even more to report at the next milestone.