Indigenization Reading Circle Notebook: “Decolonization is not a Metaphor”

The FAUW Indigenization Reading Circle meets monthly to discuss readings relating to Indigenization and reconciliation in the university context.

During the June meeting of the Reading Circle, we considered how land acknowledgements make visible the Indigenous peoples of a region and their histories. The performance of a land acknowledgment expresses a commitment to a reconciled future that is prosperous for settlers and Indigenous peoples. But does reconciliation accept settler colonialism?

In our July article, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society Vol.1 No.1 2012 pp.1-40), Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang attempt to show that when educators work to ‘decolonize’ thinking, teaching, and universities, they treat decolonization as a metaphor and jeopardize solidarity with Indigenous struggles against settler colonialism. The authors do not argue for decolonization. They show that respect for that framework requires that we refuse to absorb it into other anti-oppression projects.

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Indigenization Reading Circle Notebook: “Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement”

The FAUW Indigenization Reading Circle meets monthly to discuss readings relating to Indigenization and reconciliation in the university context.

Students, faculty, and staff at the University of Waterloo are familiar with acknowledgements of the Indigenous peoples who have been the traditional or treaty inhabitants–Neutral/Attawandaron, Anishinaabeg, and Haudenosaunee—of the territory on which the University lies. Community members across campus gathered on June 27 as part of the FAUW Indigenization reading circle to discuss “Rethinking the Practice and Performance of Indigenous Land Acknowledgement”, Canadian Theatre Review, vol. 177, Winter 2019, pp.20-30.

The document is an edited transcript of a plenary discussion at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (May 2018). The contributors were a mix of Indigenous, arrivant, and settler commentators.

Together the statements exhibit the realities of impersonal and passive territorial acknowledgements whose performance re-enacts colonialism and the potential for such statements to disturb settlers’ confidence by highlighting what they do not know about Indigenous ways of being, expressed in their language, relation to land, and their kinship ties. Other interventions offered examples of just relations in covenants of shared stewardship arrived at by the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples (e.g. ‘The Dish with One Spoon‘), and Indigenous protocols for visiting the territories of other peoples.

Many in the reading circle were uncomfortable with delivering the institutionally approved territorial acknowledgement. Some found it tokenistic, others felt uncomfortable because of their self-declared ignorance. The discussion turned to whether formulaic territorial acknowledgements are important as accessible starting points. A commitment to improve the performance of the statement could include paying greater attention to the pronunciation of names and further elaborating on historical details. Others in the circle suggested that the performance could be made more genuine by adding prefatory or concluding comments to the statement. 

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Assigning students research on social movements and marginalized groups

From an extractive to a relational approach: Craig Fortier shares tips for instructors in all disciplines assigning projects directed towards the study of marginalized groups or social movement organizations.


For over a decade, I checked the email for No One Is Illegal-Toronto, the migrant justice activist group with whom I organized. Almost daily, we would receive messages from students (mostly university, but sometimes high school or college) asking to conduct an interview. Or perhaps for basic information about the organization that could be found on our website. Or even a master’s or PhD student who wanted to “study” our movement for their dissertation. In fact, many of our individual organizers who were publicly recognizable figures received personal emails of the same nature—some at a rate two or three times that of the group email account!

At first, we would try to conduct as many interviews as possible. Our logic was: The more people who know about this issue, the more people who will join our movements and mobilize. But it quickly became clear that many of the students (and, if we are being honest, most of the professors who were telling students to come speak with us) were seeing the activity as a learning exercise for themselves and not as a means of connecting and building tangible (and reciprocal) relationships with social movements.

They also didn’t seem to understand the nature or the structure of community-based organizing. And, it wasn’t just No One Is Illegal. Talk to any active social movement group (from Black Lives Matter to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) and they will tell you the same thing: They are inundated with requests from students and teachers for information. At the time I was organizing, No One Is Illegal made the decision to develop a clear and proactive policy around research. The experience of developing that internal policy shaped and guided my own academic work and assignments as I entered the academy.

I’m now an assistant professor of Social Development Studies at Renison University College and I teach courses that are directly related to the study of social movements. It’s now my turn to try to put the principles developed in organizing spaces into practice in the academy—to ensure that we aren’t burning out campus organizers like the Indigenous Students Association, RAISE, UW Base, WPIRG, the UW Women’s Centre, etc. who are mobilizing to bring about the world we wish to see. This is the world that I teach about in my classes, but it is a world that is only actualized through on-the-ground mobilizing.

Where you come in

While this post is specifically about my experience teaching courses on social movements, I think that there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from them for professors assigning projects directed towards the study of marginalized groups, whether it is a mining engineering assignment that takes into account Indigenous peoples as stakeholders, a biology course on the health determinants in a migrant community health centre, an accounting course studying the social and environmental impacts of a particular innovation in business or any other discipline where you are relying partly on information from marginalized communities.

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Take-aways from the 2018 CAUT Aboriginal Academic Staff Conference

Karen Sunabacka is an Associate Professor of Music at Conrad Grebel University College. This past October, FAUW sponsored her to attend the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Aboriginal Academic Staff Conference.

The 2018 conference theme was “Advancing Indigenization,” and plenary topics included: new Indigenous scholars, advancing Indigenous academic staff, Indigenizing the academy, Indigenous knowledge, and the state of Indigenous Studies programs in Canada.

After the conference, Karen sat down with FAUW’s Indigenization Working Group to share her reflections on the conference. She was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us to share with members of our broader community.

What were your expectations or hopes going into the conference?

As a Métis scholar and musician, I was hoping to meet other Indigenous academic staff and hear how Indigenization was going at other institutions in Canada.

What was your biggest take-away?

Indigenization means different things to different groups of people. I was surprised to learn about the differences between the ways University administrations tend to think of Indigenization and the ways individual faculty and/or faculty groups are approaching Indigenization. Faculty are looking at ways to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge into the curriculum, they are thinking about incorporating Indigenization into different ways of teaching, and they are looking at organizational structures and how to differently arrange the University structure as a whole (some talk about this as “Decolonizing” the University). Whereas Administrations tend to think of Indigenization as simply having more diversity of faculty, staff, and students.

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An opportunity to support the Wet’suwet’en people

A message from FAUW’s Indigenization Working Group:

In recent weeks, hundreds of scholars from around the world have signed on to an open letter expressing support for BC’s Wet’suwet’en people and calling on the Canadian Government and the RCMP to cease pipeline work on Unist’ot’en Territory. Read the letter here. If you so choose, you can add your voice as a scholar.

Note: the Indigenization Working Group is an ad hoc committee of FAUW. Its support of the open letter should not be construed as FAUW’s position. Visit our website to learn more about the working group and about Indigenization at Waterloo.

People You Should Know: Lori Campbell, Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre

Our “People You Should Know” blog series interviews key people and offices at the University of Waterloo so you can make the most of their services. 

Lori Campbell is a 2-Spirit nēhiyaw atāpihtāwikosisān iskwew. Okawiya mōniyawi-sākahikanihk, Treaty 6 territory in kīwētinohk kisiskāciwan ohcīw. (Translation: a 2-Spirit Cree-Métis woman. Her mother is from Montreal Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 territory in northern Saskatchewan.) She’s the Director of Shatitsirótha’ Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC), which is located at St. Paul’s University College at the west end of the campus. We interviewed Lori to help you better understand her role and how it relates to yours.

What does your role involve?

The Centre provides a range of services for Indigenous-identifying students and leads educational opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and administration.

The academic support part of my role includes providing strategic direction on Indigenous education; developing an Indigenous student recruitment strategy; building relationships with internal and external stakeholders; and developing Indigenous academic programming and an Indigenous research agenda.

Why might faculty members be interested in what you do?

Our centre is a refuge for engaging and supporting relationships among faculty, students and staff at the University of Waterloo and in the Indigenous community. We initiate, celebrate, and support cultural and academic events that promote respect, research, relationship building, and reconciliation.

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What Indigenous students want faculty to know

Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with three Indigenous students at the University of Waterloo to hear what they would like faculty members to know about their experiences as Indigenous students in higher education.

Kiel Harris (Gitxsan/Gitanyow) is a third-year student in Planning who grew up in northern British Columbia on two different reserves. Kiel had already completed a college diploma before coming to Waterloo and is, therefore, older than many in his cohort. Kelsey Hewitt (Anishnaabe/Lac Seul First Nation) is a third-year student in Geography and Environmental Management who grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo. Kelsey also identifies as a mature student, having not started university straight out of high school. Finally, Anika McAlpine (Cree/Moose Cree First Nation) is a first-year student in Medicinal Chemistry who grew up off-reserve in northern Ontario, in a community that has a large Indigenous population.

Our conversation was broad and far-reaching, touching on challenges related to creating a visible Indigenous space on campus, concerns about implicit bias if students declare their Indigeneity to their professors, and the transitional issues Indigenous students from remote communities might face.

In this blog post, I focus on the students’ ideas about what faculty members can do right now to support Indigenization and Indigenous students in their classrooms. I’ve organized their thoughts chronologically, beginning with the first day of class and carrying through to final assessments.

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