Indigenous Advisory Council looks at the past to map a path forward
The first official meeting of MacEwan’s new Indigenous Advisory Council opened with a pipe ceremony – another step forward in the university’s commitment to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
The council is uniquely positioned to lead the way forward, explains Terri Suntjens, kâ-nêkânêstahk iyiniw pamihtamowina – director of Indigenous initiatives. The group was created with diversity in mind – it’s made up of both university and community members, and includes Elders, students, alumni and working professionals.
“We wanted members from different nations, backgrounds and experiences that represented First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples,” says Terri. “Everyone brings their own knowledge, so when we’re tasked with looking at decolonizing education, we approach it from different perspectives.”
Amber Dion, assistant professor in the Social Work program, sits on the council, and says the group’s diversity is an essential part of making Indigenous peoples – of all ages and genders – visible.
“There is a very long history of Indigenous narratives being silenced, and the Canadian public being deprived of hearing those stories. It is very important for the council to be inclusive of all voices,” she says.
The committee has already finalized a policy for smudging on campus, and is now working on a strategic plan for the university’s Indigenous initiatives. The document will address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, specifically those directed at post-secondary institutions.
Answering the call
Over the past year, MacEwan permanently raised the Treaty 6 and Métis flags on campus, and is explicitly recognizing where MacEwan sits on the land (both in speech and at our entrances). But how else is MacEwan responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Read what President Deb Saucier has to say about Indigenizing education, and what it really means to honour and celebrate Indigenous cultures on campus.
A necessary narrative
Alongside the work of reconciliation, Terri says the university needs to focus on recognition – actively seeking to learn about and appreciate the histories, narratives and traditions of Indigenous peoples.
“You can’t move forward in action unless you have understanding,” she says.
The work of the council is broader than addressing the calls to action, and is a step towards a resurgence of Indigenous cultures, adds Amber.
“The council is mindful that yes, we’re on a journey of reconciliation, but we also need to recognize the pre-contact knowledge Indigenous people can offer, and have offered,” she says. “We need to ensure Indigenous narratives are included in every class, whether it’s mathematics or social work. Why? Because this university sits on Treaty 6 territory. Simple.”
While the council is a knowledgeable resource for the university community, individuals also have a significant role to play in decolonizing education. The council’s terms of reference specifically note that “we are all treaty people.”
“We need allies. We cannot be everywhere, answering every question,” says Amber. “We have a fantastic opportunity here at the university to make sure Indigenous education is part of all of our education.”
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