Recognizing culture diversity of indigenous peoples across the country
Across Canada, there are more than sixty different nations, First Nations, Métis, and Inuk. It is important to recognize them as distinct culture groups. “Different nations have different approaches to intellectual development, property rights, land claims, and education. We must always strive to understand the role of place and the will of the local first nations, ” Michelle stresses. Who is or not present at conversations is very important. Indiscriminate talk that does not recognize the distinctiveness of each cultural group can be harmful.
Valuing Indigenous views of wholism
Michelle invites us to think of a different way of understanding the nature of student success through Indigenous views of holism. “It goes beyond just their intellectual endeavours; it is also about their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs and well-being,” Michelle says. It calls for nurturing from a whole community that is extended to all its members. It is about receiving from and giving back to the community. “This sense of wholeness is how I see the world and what I value at work. Student success is so much more than a good GPA and graduation.”
Creating meaningful change
The call is out for Indigenous education and reconciliation. More and more people want to help and things are happening. With good will and intentional effort, good work gets done. At the same time we have to be careful not to co-opt such efforts. Michelle says, “This is a big challenge we are facing. I want folks to think about how they can be part of the meaningful change and prevent tokenistic actions that we have frequently witnessed.” Meaningful change starts with valuing Indigenous perspectives and developing meaningful and committed relationships. “We as an institution cannot move forward unless we work with communities and partnership with them through sustained effort,” she emphasizes. It is also about taking responsibility for one's own learning journey in reconciliation so the burden is not placed on the Indigenous members of the faculty (or organization)- the Calls for Action from the TRC (2015) are clear that we all have a responsibility to the truth and reconciliation.
Carrying out ethical practices
Ethical practice plays a paramount role in Michelle’s scholarship. Her work is guided by Indigenous ethics and grounded in Indigenous research methods. This gives the sense of who she is as a scholar. Understanding the role of land and place, and the role of social location in reconciliation, and taking on the responsibility to create space for this work, are part of her ethics. Nothing summarizes Michelle’s scholarship better than the four Rs of Verna Kirkness and Ray Barnhard (1991) that she instills in all aspects of her research and community practice: relationship, responsibility, reciprocity and relevance. “These are at the core of what I do.” We would like to end this blog post with the important questions Michelle and the seminar attendees raised for us in Indigenous education and reconciliation in higher education:
- How do we ethically hold the work together? How can non-indigenous colleagues share the load? How can we define and develop a collective initiative going forward in a deeply individualistic academic context?
- How can we develop systems that promote Indigenous students success?
- What does institutional leadership mean in this work?
- How can we develop successful Indigenous partnerships based on respectful and responsible relationships?
How can we build up new ways to broaden and deepen this work?