Friday, June 7, 2013
Maryse Bernard www.twitter.com/MaryseVictoria
One year ago, at Congress 2012 in Waterloo, the Governor General of Canada made a call-to-action to democratize knowledge. His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston announced during his keynote speech that the academic world must extend into communities and work with them creatively.
On Tuesday, June 4, this declaration was revisited in the panel “Community-campus collaborations in Aboriginal communities: Challenges and opportunities.” The discussion brought together Roberta Jamieson (CEO and President of Indspire, and a commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario), and Dr. Wanda Wuttunee (professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, and Director of the Aboriginal Business Education Program at the Asper School of Business). The Governor General joined for the conversation, held in the University of Victoria’s First Peoples House. Also present was UVic President David Turpin.
Coast Salish Elders Victor and Joyce Underwood welcomed the panel to their home. Jamieson began by adding a second challenge to the one held out last year: to continue community-campus collaboration involving Indigenous peoples.
“It’s really cross-cultural collaboration that is the task,” said Jamieson, who is a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario. “We’re talking about bringing two different world views together to discuss our common future.”
She suggested two ways to democratize knowledge. First, by recognizing the deep knowledge of Indigenous peoples, and how it can contribute to the world. Secondly, the decolonization of academia, so that Aboriginal scholars can participate in it while retaining their identity. Jamieson believes we are part of a historic awakening for change.
“I have no doubt we have the opportunity and responsibility to create this change in our lifetime—in our generation,” she said.
Wuttunee, named Waterlily by her grandmother from the Eagle People in the Eagle hills, Saskatchewan, explained the issue is both timely and personal for her. Her father was the second Aboriginal lawyer in Canada—already fighting fifty years ago for community improvement. Wuttunee believes change is a slow process, and that the issues Aboriginal people deal with today have been around for a long time.
“Change and tension go hand in hand,” she said. “Even if you agree that it’s a good thing, that does not necessarily mean that it’s an easy road to travel together.”
To truly make a difference, she suggested going to communities to work with them and offer support—without serving as an obstacle in the projects.
The panelists discussed the challenges of community-campus collaboration in an open question period that followed. Jamieson sees the lingering myths on indigenous peoples, especially false beliefs on education funding and taxes, as one of the most daunting problems. This led into what she also views as of the brightest beacons of hope: how many Canadians are now wanting to become properly informed, and participate in the solution.
Wuttunee agreed there is a growing interest in understanding the First Nations current situation. “My colleagues are non-Aboriginal people mostly in my area of economic development,” she said. “But they have at their heart a true sensitivity, I think, to be a support to us.”
Jamieson added, “Change is not about adding on the First Nation’s wing. It’s about changing the culture of the institution and enabling an opportunity to enrich the curriculum.”
His Excellency David Johnston joined the conversation, recalling our country’s first Governor General, Samuel de Champlain. He believes Champlain’s dream for Canada was to share territories, build peaceful settlements, and strong inclusivity—a dream yet to be realized.
But the dramatic changes Johnston said he’s seen over time have made him hopeful. He stressed the need to cherish our teachers, and applauded President David Turpin for being an outstanding leader. In his 13 years at UVic, the number of Indigenous students has grown from 79 to over 900.
Johnston concluded the panel by raising three factors he thinks we need most to reach change: tenacity, trust, and a tipping point.
“I think we’re approaching a tipping point,” he said, “and I feel very optimistic. Particularly because I know first-hand some of the outstanding people who are helping the communities.”