By McGill Reporter Staff
On Tuesday, Nov. 22, some 50 people attended the first Open Forum on the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies & Indigenous Education at McGill. The forum was held from 3-5 p.m. in the Lev Buhkman Room of the SSMU Building.
The purpose of the open forum was to generate ideas and discussion relating to the task force’s two core themes: (1) recognition of Indigenous history, contemporary presence, and ways of knowing and learning; and (2) reconciliation by heeding the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action, specifically through educational and institutional efforts aimed at redressing historical legacies of injustice and restoring relationships with Indigenous peoples.
People who were unable to attend the forum are invited to submit their thoughts and ideas online.
Task force co-chair Paige Isaac, Coordinator of First Peoples’ House, moderated the event. She was joined by co-chairs Prof. Angela Campbell (Associate Provost) and Prof. Hudson Meadwell (Chair of the Department of Political Science), and Provost Christopher Manfredi.
Isaac opened the proceedings with the traditional territory acknowledgement “that McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg nations. McGill honours, recognizes and respects these nations as the traditional stewards of the lands and waters on which we meet today.”
Kenneth Deer began the forum by asking the audience to give consideration to the land, the animals, the fish, the plants and the four winds. Deer is the secretary of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, a McGill instructor and a longtime educator, journalist and political activist. “I should be saying this in Mohawk,” he said, “but I don’t speak the language. I’m a victim of the education system and the government policy that forbade us from speaking our language in the schools. Things need to change in our education systems so there are less people like me.”
Isaac then discussed the symbolism woven into the task force’s new logo, designed by recent BSc grad Marcy Maracle. Maracle is a Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
In his opening remarks, Provost Christopher Manfredi characterized the task force’s mission as “reflecting on the past so we can live better together in the future. Today we’re thinking about things McGill can do to make that future better. It’s wonderful to see so many people here today who are engaged and interested in what we’re trying to do.” Prof. Manfredi mentioned that placeholders are being built into next year’s budget to provide resources for some of the initiatives that will arise from the task force’s final recommendations in June 2017.
The attendees split into six break-out groups to discuss topics relating to the task force’s five committees. A sixth break-out group acted as a catch-all: “What is missing from the discussion?”
Refreshments were provided by Kwe Kwe Gourmet, a health-conscious catering company run by Tiffany Wahsontiiostha Deer from Kahnawake.
After 45 minutes of discussions, Isaac reconvened the group to hear summaries from the six break-out session note-takers. Ideas included:
Student recruitment and retention
- The need to reach all levels of Indigenous students, from elementary upward.
- The need to connect with professionals in schools and other key influencers. (One of the participants was a guidance counsellor from the Kahnawake Education Center.)
- The importance of adequate money and support resources to ensuring student success. The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program was cited as an example of a well-funded initiative.
- The importance of two-way exchange. The idea was raised to send McGill faculty members to Indigenous communities as learners.
- The importance of Indigenous students seeing themselves in McGill promotional materials, such as the digital viewbook.
- Food should not be underestimated as way to combat homesickness and support students living away from their communities.
Academic program and curriculum
- Increase experiential learning opportunities
- Implement mandatory Indigenous classes for all students
- More community interaction (e.g., hosting open forums in Indigenous communities, not on campus) might make the University more welcoming.
- Explore different teaching and learning models and dynamics
- Hire Indigenous scholars to review the current curricula
- Increase non-degree options, such as certificates
Physical representation and symbolic representation
- “Nothing about us without us”: no implementation without consulting communities.
- Look at what other universities are doing (e.g., UBC has a long house that serves as a central hub for programming and services for Indigenous students.)
- Need physical representation of Indigenous people on every committee
- Explore virtual representation (e.g., an Indigenous Web portal)
- Hire more Indigenous faculty, with support
- Explore multiple pathways to tenure(e.g., consider community engagement as an alternative to citation counts)
- Build trust by sharing research back with Indigenous communities
- Link up existing Indigenous research, possibly with a database
Building capacity and human resources
- “Cluster hiring” of several Indigenous professors at once may help prevent feelings of isolation
- Help ensure success by offering long-term support when recruiting Indigenous professors, staff and students
- Explore Indigenous vehicles (community newspapers, Indigenous conferences) for advertising job postings
- Family-oriented events would strengthen social support
- Recruit an Indigenous artist-in-residence
- Create field placements with Indigenous-run businesses and organizations
- Hold an annual conference of Indigenous scholars
The note-taker for the “What is missing?” session discussed ideas such as increasing the Indigenous presence in University governance (e.g., appoint an elder-in-residence to the Senate and Board of Governors), and the need to incorporate spiritual concerns into campus life.
An open discussion period followed. Much of the conversation focused on what one participant called “the r-word,” with talk about the need for difficult conversations about systemic racism and for raising awareness of unconscious biases.
A full summary of the open forum’s discussions will be made available to the public. The Provost’s Task Force will submit a preliminary report in January 2017 and a final report in June 2017. The next open forum is tentatively scheduled for February 2, 2017, at the Macdonald campus.