The concept of “indigenizing the academy” is a trend that is getting hotter and hotter. Because I work as an Aboriginal Recruitment Officer at a university and am Métis myself, I decided to examine this trend and find out what it means for me at work and as an aboriginal person.
First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples are the fastest growing population in Canada Canada (“Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit,” n.d.). In this post, the terms aboriginal, first peoples, and indigenous are used interchangeably to refer to these three groups. In order to ensure a high quality of life for all Canadians the fact that our aboriginal peoples do not have the best relationships with formal education needs to be addressed (Russell, 2013). This is basically why governments and universities want to make sure that our post-secondary education systems are welcoming for aboriginal peoples. (“Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan,” 2012) The term for this process has been coined as “indigenizing the academy.”
As a Recruitment Officer at a university, it’s my job to make sure that the prospective students are informed about their choices and also to give them a sense of how we are prepared to help transition them into academics and student life. When I make visits to Aboriginal communities, the transition piece is more important than our program offerings. Why? Historically, the relationships between aboriginal peoples and institutions have not had a very good track record.
So, what does “indigenizing the academy” look like?
Culturally safe spaces like gathering places where culture is celebrated and practiced, the involvement of elders in university life and study, the use of dead languages, and educating non-aboriginals about history and culture are definitely some places to start (Interview with Dr. Jo-ann Archibald, 2012). In addition, recognizing that students often have family commitments that don’t allow them to leave home can create opportunities for in-community delivery of university programming. I feel like indigenizing the academy will be an ongoing process of teaching, listening, and learning.
There are also still some naysayers, though those voices are harder to hear these days. My feeling is that there is still some racism and misunderstanding in mainstream society. That is why I think teachers are the main agents of change if indigenizing the academy is to become a reality. Teachers have the responsibility to model acceptance, participate in cultural practices, and recognition of traditional territories. They are also the ones who can help students (both aboriginal and non-aboriginal) understand the struggles faced by aboriginal peoples today and yesterday. Teachers should also examine their own beliefs and ensure there aren’t any discrepancies between what they think they believe and what they actually do.
Indigenization is a trend I must constantly be informed about and prepared to address. Some things I’m currently doing to address this trend include providing students with information about how indigenous students are welcomed to our campus. This might take the form of telling stories about the elders and current students. I also let them know that they are not alone in the transition by giving them names and contact information for supportive groups and individuals. I also stay current on what tactics are successful at other institutions.
I’m excited about the changes we will see on university campuses across the country as indigenization takes hold and becomes hard reality instead of a concept in motion.
Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2014, from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm
Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan. (2012). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.aved.gov.bc.ca/aboriginal/docs/Aboriginal_Action_Plan.pdf
Interview with Dr. Jo-ann Archibald. (2012). CANADA: You Tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Bqe5ka7iCw
Russell, A. (2013). Indigenizing the Academy: making universities more welcoming for Aboriginal peoples – UFV Today. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://blogs.ufv.ca/blog/2013/06/indigenizing-the-academy-making-universities-more-welcoming-for-aboriginal-peoples-2/