Academic renewal and McGill’s commitment toward reconciliation

McGill, says Provost Christopher Manfredi, is “committed to taking a leadership role, locally, nationally and globally, by embedding Indigeneity in the life and activities of the institution.”
On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, McGill raised the Hiawatha Wampum Belt Flag, a centuries-old symbol marking unity and peace between the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations.Neale McDevitt

McGill is in the midst of a drive to recruit Indigenous faculty members. The initiative responds to a key call to action set by the 2017 Report of the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Education, namely, to set a target of “at least 35 Indigenous tenure-track or tenured professors for appointment by 2032.”

“In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to actions, McGill has prioritized the integration of Indigenous experiences and perspectives in all facets of the University’s academic mission,” says Provost Christopher Manfredi. “One of the keys to fulfilling this commitment is to actively increase the number of Indigenous scholars in our professoriate. Faculty renewal is a vital component of any healthy university, infusing a school with new ideas, new perspectives and new research. Indigenous faculty members bring with them experiences, knowledges and leadership styles that will enhance McGill by diversifying our community and expanding our areas of expertise.”

Professor Treena Wasonti:io Delormier, Associate Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE), agrees. “Universities have always been important institutions of learning for societies. Indigenous knowledge has largely been ignored or profoundly misinterpreted from western perspectives, however,” she says. “Having focused Indigenous Faculty and staff brings these knowledges into the university and can eventually transform universities to reflect the societies they aspire to represent.”

Enhancing Indigenous identity, ways of knowing across McGill

The 2017 Provost’s Task Force recommended a targeted “cluster hire” that would seek, over a three year period, to add 10 new faculty members in the tenure stream who “have lived experience and expertise in Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, methodologies, histories, traditions, languages, or systems of laws and governance.” McGill University, says the Provost is “committed to taking a leadership role, locally, nationally and globally, by embedding Indigeneity in the life and activities of the institution.”

In 2018, the Provost issued licenses for six new tenure-track hires in the area of Indigenous education, languages, governance, and health. This hiring is additional to searches and recent appointments in the disciplines of law, art history and communication studies, music, human nutrition, education, anthropology and continuing studies committed to enhancing the presence of Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous identity across McGill.

Three positions in health-related areas have been advertised since the beginning of April 2019. Delormier, who will Chair the search taking place in CINE, says the positions are important and “can bring much needed and multiple perspectives to the complex issue of Indigenous Health. McGill has strong research programs focused on Indigenous Health, and welcoming Indigenous faculty in bringing their distinct experiences and understandings will fill important gaps.”

Delorimier, who notes she is currently the only Indigenous professor in the faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (FAES) at McGill, stresses the importance of having another Indigenous faculty member at the Centre, saying it “will be an asset for our research programs, strengthen our nutrition curriculum and degree programs, as well as create an innovative space for addressing the pressing needs of Indigenous communities at McGill.”

“In this time of reconciliation, hiring Indigenous faculty members at McGill is long overdue. It is very easy for an institution to talk about reconciliation but actions, such as hiring and valuing Indigenous faculty members, goes so much further,” says Dr. Kent Saylor, Director, Indigenous Health Professions Program and a member of the Mohawk Nation.

“Having more Indigenous faculty members on campus will increase the dialogue on reconciliation and will enhance the learning and opportunities for all students at McGill. The benefits for Indigenous students on campus will be enormous,” continues Dr. Saylor. “With the addition of these positions Indigenous students will no longer feel alone and can see a future for themselves at McGill.”

Indigenous faculty empowers Indigenous students

Kakwiranó:ron Cook, Special Advisor, Indigenous Initiatives, has been part of the process from the very beginning. A 10-year veteran of McGill, Cook was a member of the 2017 Provost’s Task Force that recommended the cluster hires.

“One of the features that is most exciting is having the candidates spend time with us, the Indigenous staff at McGill. It gives us a chance to meet, to help situate them on the territory, to talk about the Indigenous community at the University, and to discuss the Task Force report,” says Cook. “It gives them a complete portrait of what’s happening at McGill and where we’re looking to go overall. They also have the opportunity to share their expectations of McGill and the University’s Indigenous community.”

Delorimier agrees. “Having Indigenous faculty can be incredibly empowering for Indigenous students,” she says. “In my previous experiences, Indigenous students not only can work with faculty who can share and relate to the experience of being Indigenous, but students see that Indigenous people are being  successful in academic spaces, which opens possibilities in the minds of these future scholars.”

It’s a small community – Cook estimates there are 26 Indigenous faculty and administrative staff members at McGill. One of the challenges, he says, is to strengthen that network.

“It’s easy to be siloed in a university,” says Cook. “So, we are creating a network for Indigenous staff in order to better support each other and have a strong voice in regard to helping guide University policies. Yes, we are only 26, but there’s a sense that, together, we have a critical mass.”

Bold ideas, bold actions

Reconciliation is an ongoing debate in Canada. According to Cook, some Indigenous people believe that “it’s window dressing” that goes neither far nor fast enough. Truth can also be elusive and controversial. “McGill still needs to fully examine its history of interactions with Indigenous people,” he says, echoing the Work of the Provost’s Task Force as well as the more recent Working Group on Commemoration and Renaming.

But McGill is also in a unique position to provide considerable leadership, says Cook. Leadership that could be truly significant in Canada and beyond.

“There’s a big gap to bridge and it’s going to take a while before Indigenous people are normalized in terms of our presence. It’s a big culture shift and, honestly, it will be the work of generations,” he says. “But this is McGill. We are a leading university and our reach is global. You don’t achieve McGill’s position without thinking boldly.

“We’re approaching McGill’s bicentennial and it’s given us the opportunity to reflect upon our past and plan our future,” continues Cook. “Why not take a daring leap into our next century as a leading Canadian institution and really move the dial forward on reconciliation?

“I feel like there’s tremendous momentum within McGill’s leadership. I’m really enthusiastic,” he says. “But we still need more. We need to strengthen our relationships with our colleagues and the allies that we have in McGill’s ecosystem. Collectively, we can make that leap a bold one.”

Open positions

Tenure-Track Faculty Position
Open to rank of Assistant Professor or Associate Professor
Optional: Canada Research Chair Tier 2 in Indigenous Perspectives of Health and Primary Health Care

Tenure-Track Faculty Position
Assistant Professor
Canada Research Chair Tier 2 in Infectious Diseases in Indigenous Communities

Tenure-Track Faculty Position
Open to rank of Assistant Professor or Associate Professor
Opportunity for Canada Research Chair Tier 2 in Nutrition, Health and Food Sovereignty of Indigenous Communities in Circumpolar Regions