Jan. 12, 2017

Successful dialogue sessions and online survey will help form UCalgary's Indigenous Strategy

Input gathered from more than 1,600 stakeholders now being analyzed
Indigenous strategy consultation
Indigenous strategy consultation

They arrived in great numbers to help empower the spirit of indigenization at the University of Calgary. More than 1,600 community and campus stakeholders have now participated in focus groups, given input through dialogue sessions, and answered online survey questions to help the University of Calgary assess its current programming and relationships to Indigenous communities. They also discussed how the university can support its stakeholders through the process of indigenizing the campus.

The process of gathering input — titled Gathering Stories: Journey Towards an Indigenous Strategy — included beading and bracelet-making as symbols of community-building, and taking part in a round dance as a way to foster pride and a sense of community. The input will directly shape the development of the university’s campus-wide Indigenous Strategy.

The inner-city dialogue session, held at Fort Calgary on Oct. 17, 2016, welcomed people in Calgary’s inner city who work with Indigenous communities to tell their stories and the stories of their clients. This session — with approximately 85 participants — focused on a discussion about access to education, barriers to education, and the ways in which people navigate the system.

Gain insights into urban contexts

“Our goal with the inner-city dialogue session was to gain insight into educational realities for Indigenous peoples living in urban contexts,” said Jacqueline Ottmann, assistant professor and director of indigenous education initiatives for the Werklund School of Education and co-chair of UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy Task Force. “This gathering informed us about barriers to education and the ways our university can be more inclusive and welcoming for Indigenous learners and instructors. For those students and faculty who work alongside and with Indigenous communities, we want to provide an education that helps them strengthen their cultural competencies, and ensure that these relationships are built on respect, common purposes and goals.”

What it means for post-secondary institutions

The on-campus stakeholder dialogue session was held at Mac Hall on Nov. 4, and brought together 225 people from the campus community and Indigenous communities to talk broadly about the concept of indigenization: what it means for post-secondary institutions in general, and specifically what it means for UCalgary.

Keynote speakers included Shauneen Pete, who gave a powerful presentation on One Hundred Ways to Indigenize Post-Secondary Education, and Willie Littlechild, who presented Finding the Path to Reconciliation in Post-Secondary Education. Wilton Good Striker presented grounding remarks for the day: Understanding our Relationship to Indigenous Land.

'We have a duty and an obligation to take part in reconciliation efforts'

“We know the stories we are hearing from stakeholders at our dialogue sessions through focus groups and the online survey will help direct our path forward as an institution,” said Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic) and co-chair of UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy Task Force. “Many people may not be very familiar with Canadian history and particularly with the traumatic implications of the mandatory residential school policy for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples. It was a dark time in Canadian history. As an educational institution, we have a duty and an obligation to take part in reconciliation efforts. We need to understand the history behind the residential schools policy and the resulting intergenerational trauma in order to consider how we can best respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.”

The final dialogue session was held on Nov. 18 with about 23 elders and traditional knowledge keepers, and was facilitated by Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The day’s discussion focused on exploring indigenization: understanding our connection to the land from an Indigenous perspective; understanding the importance of Indigenous languages as vessels of world views; revitalizing Indigenous languages; and understanding how the university can engage the Indigenous community in a more meaningful way to enhance learning, teaching and research on campus.

Dialogues with stakeholders and community members only the beginning

“The ultimate measure of success for the university will be when the Indigenous community validates our strategy,” said Shawna Cunningham, director of UCalgary’s Native Centre and co-chair of the Indigenous Strategy working group. “These dialogues with stakeholders and community members are only the beginning; they will need to continue into the future. There is so much more to learn from the Indigenous community. We have to hear their stories in order to understand in a heartfelt way what reconciliation means. Our job is to listen with the heart. This is critical to the process of gathering stories and understanding how to move forward in indigenization.”

An online survey ran from Nov. 5 to Dec. 5 and received about 1,300 responses. Data and information collected from the dialogue sessions and the survey are being transcribed and synthesized. A written draft of the Indigenous Strategy is expected in the spring of 2017, with its official launch to take place on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2017.

Information about the development of the Indigenous Strategy, including video from the Nov. 4 dialogue session presentations, is available on the provost’s website under Strategic Initiatives.