Ontario’s universities are built on models of scholarship developed in the United Kingdom and western Europe. Founded by and for European settlers, Ontario’s universities have excluded Indigenous voices and played an active role encouraging the colonization of Indigenous lands, nations, and peoples.
With the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, the destructive results of colonization have been made crystal clear to everyone. The TRC’s purpose was to document truth—a goal aligned with a core mission of the university—and through the testimony of thousands, the report paints a vivid picture of kidnapped children, destroyed families, devastated communities, endangered languages, stolen land, and a cultural genocide across the continent.
The report identifies education as a priority and calls for Canada’s universities to take immediate action, including eliminating education and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, providing more funding and assistance to end the backlog of Indigenous students seeking postsecondary education, protecting the right to learn and study in Indigenous languages, developing culturally appropriate curricula, and advancing reconciliation in the academy.
Decolonizing all levels of our education system is crucial. An urgent and fundamental commitment from our educational institutions is required to increase awareness of the horrors of colonization and to create a society that embraces, supports, and makes space for the vibrant First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures that have survived.
Many universities have taken up the TRC’s Calls to Action and made public commitments to Indigenization and reconciliation. Strategies have been developed, new supports have been created for Indigenous students, Indigenous studies program offerings have been bolstered, and some Ontario universities now offer courses in languages, including Algonquian, Nishnaabemowin, and Ojibwe.
However, there is real concern these initiatives do not reach the foundations of the academy. The past year has seen several resignations of Indigenous academic leaders who argue that university governing bodies are not committed to the work required for reconciliation and decolonization. This prompts the core question we explore in this issue: Are universities doing enough to respond meaningfully to the TRC’s final report and the continuing colonization in higher education?
This question is profound, and we are lucky to have such an insightful group of Indigenous scholars contributing their perspectives to this issue.
In a special interview, Tanya Talaga discusses the changes needed for more Indigenous students to access postsecondary education and how institutions can move towards decolonization.
Reflecting on the roles of faculty associations, Lori Campbell, Shannon Dea, and Laura McDonald argue that it is time for non-Indigenous faculty to get uncomfortable and do the work needed to support their Indigenous colleagues.
Mary Ann Corbiere provides an important perspective on the role higher education institutions can play revitalizing Indigenous languages by meaningfully integrating them into university curricula.
Reflecting on the broader debate, Ashley Courchene suggests reconciliation has stalled, in part because it is founded on the false premise that a harmonious relationship previously existed between Indigenous peoples and European colonizers.
Hannah Tait Neufeld, Brittany Luby, and Kim Anderson illustrate how Indigenous land-based learning provides hands-on opportunities for knowledge development that shift away from Eurocentric forms of education.
Finally, Malinda S. Smith and Nancy Bray spotlight the stark Indigenous diversity gap at Canadian universities through a series of data and infographics.
It is important to acknowledge this journal is produced in the Dish With One Spoon Territory, which extends from the Great Lakes to Quebec and from Lake Simcoe into the United States. The territory exists as the result of a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee that bound them to protect and share the land and creatures within it. Subsequent Indigenous nations and peoples, Europeans, and all newcomers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship, and respect.
I would like to thank Victoria McMurchy, a student in Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, for her keen-eyed editing and James Mathieu Chambers at Design de Plume whose original artwork gives this issue such warmth. As always, we love to hear your thoughts. A reminder that all of these articles, and many more, are available on our website: AcademicMatters.ca. Thanks for reading.