On Dec. 15, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada released its final report, outlining the ways in which Canadian society must redress the country’s legacy of residential schools and advance the process of reconciliation.
The TRC report encompasses stories from Inuit, Métis, and First Nations residential school survivors, and builds upon this knowledge to make numerous calls to action; these calls focus on themes of child welfare, education, language and culture, health, and justice.
A couple of years ago, the university organized a group of indigenous students, staff, and faculty, as well as university deans and chairs, to form the Indigenous Academic Advisory Council. The Council recommended the development of an Indigenous Academic Plan (IAP) to clearly state UVic’s aspirations and goals, and the concrete steps that would be taken to achieve them.
The results of the TRC came out at around the same time as the Council’s decision to create the IAP, says Dr. Catherine Mateer, Associate Vice-President Academic Planning, who co-chairs the IAP Planning Committee with Dr. Robina Thomas, Director of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement.
“A whole set of [the TRC calls to action] relate to education . . . to help support education for indigenous students and communities, but mostly to educate all students and all people of Canada with respect to the real history of Canada — a history of systemized racism and abuse through a variety of policies, one of which was the residential school system,” Mateer says.
This history of Canada, says Mateer, has been distorted and misrepresented, and many Canadians are unaware of the enduring negative impacts of residential schools on indigenous peoples and communities, and the systematic deconstruction of culture, language, customs, and family structures. As the TRC calls to action advocate for reconciliation around this history, the release of the report was timely — so much so that it was used as a founding document for the IAP.
The draft plan includes four main pillars — students; faculty, staff, and elders; programs; and governance, communication, and administration — and was modeled after a Big House, a traditional place of learning, community, and discussion. However, the committee is cautious of appropriating this strong, cultural image, and is still gathering community feedback.
Some of the goals and actions outlined in the IAP include: increasing the recruitment and support of indigenous students, faculty, and staff; developing new indigenous academic programs; and providing opportunities for all UVic students to gain a better understanding of indigenous peoples, history and culture. An indigenous major is also in the works, as is a graduate-level certificate.
“We’d like to see indigenous content infused right across every single program on campus, because our indigenous students are everywhere on campus,” says Mateer.
Mateer says this will “make sure all students have the opportunity to learn about and to understand and integrate in their own thinking, no matter what area of study they’re in, that aspect of Canadian history and culture.”
A draft of the plan can be found online, and Mateer welcomes student comments and feedback, as well as other ideas for increasing student engagement with the IAP and for allowing the committee to hear student voices.
The committee is expecting to finish consultations on the plan by mid-April, and implement the plan in full by the fall. However, many aspects of the plan are already underway.
In addition to the IAP, UVic is demonstrating its commitment to indigenous issues through a multitude of events pertaining to the TRC report. Last week’s IdeaFest included four events, discussing topics from language revitalization to how indigenous women and girls have confronted the legacy of residential schools.
And from April 27–29, UVic is hosting a Community University Engagement Conference (CUVIC) titled “Reconciliation, Innovation and Transformation through Engagement” where numerous students will be showcasing their research and ideas. Registration for the conference is open online, and student registration fees are $100. Residential school survivors are invited to attend the conference at no cost.
“As a university, I think we are really happy [with] and proud of many amazing faculty and staff and students and elders who have done very good work, and I think we have very good, solid programs in many different academic areas,” says Mateer. “There’s certainly room to do more, and we hope that the plan will help provide the direction, principles, and priorities that we’ll go forward with.”
Correction, March 29: A previous version of this article stated that the TRC report encompasses stories from indigenous residential school survivors. It should’ve read “First Nations” survivors, so as to not imply Inuit and Métis were less indigenous than First Nations people. We have edited the article and sincerely regret the error.