Decolonization and Indigenization at AU
Trigger warning: Indian residential schools, death
Athabasca University actively supports and promotes the decolonization of all aspects of our university, as well as efforts to decolonize across the post-secondary sector in Canada. Decolonization, that is, the challenging and dismantling of dominant Euro-Western structures of knowing, is a critical component of Indigenization and ultimately, of conciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples.
As part of our Imagine strategic plan, which guides our AU community, we have a shared responsibility to uphold a transformative learning environment, and support our colleagues across the sector who may be facing threats of violence and aggression for their beliefs. We have recently seen such a case in the news, with one of our colleagues at Mount Royal University.
We strive to strengthen our ties to community, to show integrity in a respectful, adaptable environment, and to work towards respect and reciprocity in all of our relationships. This means we work toward kwayskahsatsowin (conciliation) with our university colleagues, regardless of race. We support and promote change in the university environment and to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing in curriculum and in staff and student communities. We know this will be a long, difficult path for all of us who work in university settings. We support our colleagues’ efforts to change, and we stand against hate in all its forms. We also support those within our own AU community and will not tolerate aggression or threats against them for their efforts.
–Deborah Meyers, President (Interim)
Decolonization: Looking back to look ahead
To fully understand the process of decolonization, we must first acknowledge the intergenerational impacts that colonization has had and continues to have on Indigenous Peoples living in Canada.
Colonization is the process of removing a people from their culture and heritage and assimilating them into mainstream society, often by forceful measures. Examples of such cultural discrimination include forcing Indigenous children into residential schools, banning traditional clothing and ceremonies, and enforcing patriarchal government initiatives such as the Indian Act.
Unlearning and relearning new ways of being and thinking
Indigenous Peoples were not responsible for the colonization of Canada, yet they’re the group most often found at the centre of reconciliation and decolonization advancement. For decolonization to be impactful, everyone must consciously unlearn and relearn ways of being and thinking about the world.
The process of decolonization can only happen when society works collaboratively to dismantle colonial structures and practices. As the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states: “Indigenous Peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.”
Decolonization and Indigenization go hand-in-hand
If decolonization is the dismantling of colonial structures, then Indigenization incorporates Indigenous Knowledge, perspectives and worldviews into those structures. In a post-secondary institution, this could mean reimagining programming, staffing, curriculum and learner supports.
At Athabasca University, examples include a learner with Metis roots who received grant funding to help Indigenous women tell their own health stories. AU faculty members have explored issues such as the impact of sexual violation on Indigenous women, how Indigenous learners are coping with online learning during the pandemic, and the experiences of Indigenous doctoral students. An AU partnership with the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Alberta has helped reduce barriers to entry into the Bachelor of Commerce program for Indigenous learners.
Other ongoing work at AU includes updating and revising program content to add Indigenous elements and the establishment of a Decolonization and Conciliation Circle. Initiatives like these are part of university-wide efforts towards Indigenization and decolonization. AU’s Nukskahtowin (Meeting Place) team works with Indigenous communities, knowledge, and methodologies to bring our university and Indigenous communities together.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified Call to Action No. 62, referring to education, which states that the colonial governments must work in collaboration with “Aboriginal Peoples to establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education,” as well provide the necessary funding to “post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.” By including Indigenous perspective in high-level positions of government and curriculum development in classrooms, the act of decolonization then becomes institutionalized.
Athabasca University is committed to learning from and working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples in our conciliation journey. Decolonization and Indigenization is a journey that everyone must undertake, and this is also the case for post-secondary institutions.
There are many resources available to improve your understanding of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous Peoples in Canada:
- University of Alberta’s free online course, Indigenous Canada
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)
- Decolonization Is for Everyone
- 48 books by Indigenous writers to read to understand residential schools – CBC News
- Residential Schools(National Film Board of Canada)
- Nukskahtowin Strategic Plan
Learn more about decolonization and Indigenization at AU:
- Go the Distance podcast Ep. 11: Building a new approach to Indigenous health
- AU research studies the impact of sexual violation on Indigenous women
- AU professor explores Indigenous post-secondary experiences
- Creating opportunities for Indigenous learners
- A business degree designed for Indigenous learners
- How university can support Indigenous online learners in the COVID-19 pandemic
The members of the Athabasca University community respectfully acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional lands of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit, Métis). We honour the ancestry, heritage, and gifts of the Indigenous Peoples and give thanks to them.