Indigenizing and Decolonizing the Faculty of Humanities

Surridge (left) and Toorenburgh (right) stand in front of the Clearihue building.
Surridge (left) and Toorenburgh (right) stand in front of the Clearihue building.

As Lydia Toorenburgh sat on a bench outside the Clearihue building in May 2015, having just completed their first year of studies at UVic, they reflected on their experiences as an Otipemisiwak (Cree-Métis person) in the classroom and on campus, imagining the changes they would implement to improve the experiences of other Indigenous students if given the chance.

Around the same time, then- and current Humanities Associate Dean Academic Lisa Surridge stood in a room of university professors in Ottawa, listening as the Honourable Murray Sinclair summarized the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and pledging to fulfill its calls to action.

Today, the two are proud to stand behind the fruits of their combined efforts to spearhead the Faculty of Humanities’ first Indigenization Implementation Strategy (IIS) — a five-year plan to facilitate the Indigenization and decolonization of the institution’s programs and organizational structures, launched this March.

“The IIS aims to help increase the success and wellness of the Indigenous community in the Faculty while supporting non-Indigenous community members to better understand settler-colonialism and their individual role in decolonization,” says Toorenburgh, who was hired as Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator for the Faculties of Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences in 2020. “We hope this strategy will assist the growth of the Faculty as we examine our culture, values and practices together.”

To ensure the plan aligns with existing strengths within the Faculty while addressing the community’s particular needs, Toorenburgh and Surridge conducted extensive consultations with students, staff and faculty, as well as with representatives from the Faculty’s 15 academic units.

An early draft was then shared with the University’s Vice President Indigenous, Robina Thomas, for feedback before being presented to Indigenous staff and faculty members through in-person meetings.

I want to raise my hands to the Faculty of Humanities, huy tseep q’u Siem – thank you respected family and friends – for undertaking the necessary commitment to truth, respect and reconciliation that is outlined in the new Indigenization Implementation Strategy. With commitment comes responsibility and I look forward to witnessing the transformation of the Faculty as this plan is rolled out.

Qwul’sih’yah’maht Robina Thomas, Vice-President Indigenous

In its final form, the IIS is designed to advance the principles of UVic’s Indigenous Plan (2017 – 22) and Strategic Framework, as well as the applicable Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action, by outlining goals and tactics that the Faculty, units and programs can undertake.

“The most common feedback that we received at the start of our consultations was that people did not know where to start when it comes to decolonization, so we tried to develop a strategy that is both concrete and achievable,” says Surridge. “We will know that our efforts were successful if Indigenous students, staff and faculty in the Humanities see a better reflection of themselves, their cultures and their values in the Faculty, and if settlers like myself within the community have embarked on a conscious process of self-examination to support that change.”

The new Indigenous Implementation Strategy puts into words the hard work and concrete actions the Faculty of Humanities has committed to undertake toward Indigenization, decolonization and anti-racism. It is a living document with clear responsibilities and accountabilities that will require dedicated and sustained collective and individual effort at all levels, including in the areas of research, teaching, curriculum, pedagogy, planning, and operations. On behalf of the Faculty, I want to extend deepest thanks to Lydia Toorenburgh and Lisa Surridge for their tireless efforts in leading this foundational and important project. This document will help us to move in a good direction; now it is up to all of us to do the work.

— Annalee Lepp, Dean of Humanities

Learn More:

- The Faculty of Humanities Indigenization Implementation Strategy 2022-26
- The University of Victoria’s Indigenous Plan 2017-22
- The University of Victoria’s Strategic Framework 2018-23
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action