UVic in strong position to respond to TRC recommendations

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final 11-page set of recommendations, one of the commission’s overarching goals loomed so large, it seemed poised to walk right off the document.

“The idea is that all we have learned is not to become stored and dusty,” explains Commissioner Marie Wilson. “It is a call to action.”

That call—especially as it relates to education—is being heeded nationally by Universities Canada (formerly AUCC) and on our own campus as well.

UVic President Jamie Cassels—who helped shape the 13 principles on Indigenous education recently adopted by Universities Canada—has also said that the TRC recommendations are an opportunity “to renew our commitment and redouble our efforts” to contribute to reconciliation and help close the educational achievement gap.

Widening attention and growing momentum

During the six years that the TRC gathered testimony from more than 6,750 people as it travelled across the country, what Wilson saw has her hopeful that the time for real change has come. 

At the TRC’s first national event in 2010, about 10 per cent of the people attending were non-Indigenous. At their seventh and final national event in 2014, that number had jumped to 60 per cent.

“That speaks to momentum—to people paying attention,” Wilson says. “I saw the shift in numbers. I saw people who had no obligation to be in those rooms listening to the survivors speak and who put themselves in that place.”

It speaks to a willingness among Canadians to listen and to create a future that learns from—and respects—the past, Wilson believes.

Along with that willingness come practical steps to make sure the TRC’s 94 recommendations aren’t forgotten.

The recommendations call for change to varying levels of government, faculties and institutions of learning and schools, the business community, media, the justice system, courts and child welfare.

Owning our shared commitments

Robina Thomas, the Director of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement at UVic, hopes all Canadians take up the call to reconciliation in the report.

“It is very thoughtful, respectful and well-articulated,” says Thomas, whose position at UVic serves as a link between Indigenous communities and the university with respect to the development and delivery of programs and research of mutual interest and value. 

But so was the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, she adds.

“If the report gets shelved, it is not even worth the paper it was written on. We must take up the responsibility to breathe life into this report.”

The TRC wants to attach “champions” to each call to action, so responsibility and ownership become part of the community. It is also hoping that social agencies and institutions step forward and say they will take on responsibility. 

Educational institutions have been called upon to engage with Indigenous communities, be leaders in reconciliation, create opportunities for Indigenous students, integrate Indigenous knowledge, perspectives and worldviews into curricula, programs and services, and educate all students about the history and legacy of residential schools. 

“We were pleased in reading the report that many of the recommendations made and many of the ways of thinking about engaging with our students and with  Indigenous communities are ones we value,” says Catherine Mateer, associate vice-president of academic planning at UVic. 

Says UVic Provost Valerie Kuehne: “The report reaffirmed the responsibility of universities in closing the gaps in education for Indigenous people—and in sharing what we know about the enduring effects of the residential school system on Indigenous people, families and communities.”

Strong foundations guide future work

At UVic, this work will extend a long history of welcoming Indigenous students, working in partnership with Indigenous communities, and promoting reciprocal learning opportunities between Indigenous and academic knowledge—in academic programs and research partnerships alike.

“Indigenous education and a commitment to working with  Indigenous communities are essential elements of the university’s strategic plan,” Mateer says.

That commitment has led to a more-than-tenfold increase in Indigenous student enrolment since 2000. In 2014, Indigenous enrolment at UVic included 794 undergrads and 212 grad students—with many others enrolled in certificate programs offered by Continuing Studies.

Academic programs with a strong Indigenous focus can be found all across the campus. Social work and child and youth care were early leaders in this area, as was UVic’s program in Indigenous education. UVic was one of the first universities to offer programs in Indigenous Language Revitalization.  The law school has  built an extensive record of leading the country in Indigenous legal traditions and scholarship, and the Gustavson School of Business has developed training in economic development and entrepreneurship in Indigenous communities. 

In addition, many of UVic’s distance education programs allow Indigenous students to achieve their goals without having to leave their home communities—including groundbreaking programs in child and youth care, nursing and the Akitsiraq law school in Nunavut. 

Cassels also noted “the inspiration of the TRC recommendations is timely and welcome,” as the university develops its first Indigenous Academic Plan. UVic’s academic leaders are also reviewing the TRC to see how best they can continue to provide Indigenous education and support Indigenous students and communities. The 2016 Provost’s Diversity Research Forum, on Jan. 21-22, will feature  presentations and workshops that address understanding, reconciliation, and ways to move forward.

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Keywords: Indigenous, reconciliation

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