Indigenization Efforts on Campus Begin Next Steps

Janny Wang - 2A Nanotechnology Engineering
Posted on: November 28, 2018

Our world has developed something of a mania for mass emails; one such distinguished itself from the commoner horde by bearing the signature of Dr. Feridun himself. This was an ‘Update on the University of Waterloo Indigenization Strategy’, which was, unfortunately for its readability, north of sixteen words and without any promise of reimbursement or compensation.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee had issued an extensive call to action, whereupon the University of Waterloo’s Steering Committee issued their own list of demands after “450 hours of collaboration with more than 60 students, faculty and staff”. One of these calls, which Dr. Feridun has heeded, is the appointment of a Director of Indigenous Initiatives at University of Waterloo. The precise details of the position are as yet unknown, but Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, who occupies a similar role at the University of Toronto, receives about 130k a year for spearheading the “sustainable” recruitment of “indigenous staff, faculty and students”.

The Steering Committee itself is headed by Diana Parry, the Associate Vice President, Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion, a “feminist scholar who [uses her] research to advance a social justice agenda by advocating for a holistic understanding and conceptualization of health for women”.

The Committee itself is divided into five “working groups”; Community Engagement, Policy and Procedures, Curriculum and Academic Programming, Research, and Student Experience.

The first two groups have an eye chiefly on administrative affairs; the creation of more Offices, committees, and Directors, and the promotion of staff with ties to the indigenous community. Half- buried between this rather bureaucratic shuffling is a major proposed change of university policy.

Recommendation 6 of the Policies and Procedures Working Group advises the university to “review current policies and consider introducing alternatives that are better adapted to meeting the lived experiences and values of FNMI students (eg. UW policies 70, 71, and 72) ”. The rationale for this is that our current practices are centered around “the values and experiences of Euro-American students… and reflect the practices of settler society”.

The recommendations of the Student Experience Working Group involve “dedicated spaces devoted to Indigenous culture…such as a three sisters garden (beans, corn, and squash)”, Knowledge Keepers in Residence, Ally Training, and further financial assistance for indigenous students, while the Research Working Group seems primarily concerned with preserving and promoting “Indigenous research methodology”.

The recommendations which will be of primary interest to undergraduate students are those of the Academic Working Group. The most notable one involves “indigenizing programs and courses”. This would involve “hiring elders in residence and indigenous curriculum… with the relevant areas of expertise in every faculty [italics mine]”. Afterwards, a shift in pedagogy would occur. To quote the paper in full:

“Implementation in STEM – certificates in cultural competence and in community-government-industry mediation; Indigenous language milestones/ requisites; recognition of Indigenous science and knowledge in new courses and/ or as part of existing courses; application of Indigenous paedagogical methods (learning circles; story- telling, for example), particularly for mathematics and physics; land-based learning; outreach and recruitment of students from Indigenous communities”

It is not certain if these recommendations are finalized, but they would represent an immense upheaval in the lifestyle of any engineering student and it is by no means evident how such changes would be implemented. Learning a new language would be a significant burden on students already weeping into their nightly ramen; “Indigenous science and knowledge” is unlikely to be applicable to most newfangled programs, and story-telling seems an inconvenient way to teach electromagnetism.

These recommendations are from the draft versions, which can be found on the University of Waterloo website. In his email, Dr. Feridun indicates that he has “accepted the committee’s recommendations and consulted broadly with community stakeholders on… next steps”. There is no doubt that the University of Waterloo is a diverse and welcoming community, but the proposed recommendations would require a large commitment on the parts of both student and staff, and the implementation thereof seems fraught with challenges.

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