Taking action: Reconciliation at SFU

June 09, 2021

Over the past week, our communities have grieved the discovery of the 215 children who were taken from their families and communities and died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School as part of the history of Indigenous genocide in this country. And while we continue to grieve and stand in solidarity with Indigenous colleagues and Indigenous communities, this is also a time to commit to concrete action.

While work is ongoing at SFU, we also know that there is a great deal more to be done. The harms of residential schools and other colonial practices were enacted over more than a century. The path towards repairing those harms is not straightforward, nor is it a matter of a few policy changes. We are on this journey for generations to come.

Acknowledging our complicity

The atrocities committed at Indian Residential Schools across Canada were done in the name of education. As a place of learning, we have an inherent responsibility to acknowledge and address our own complicity as we work to advance reconciliation.

As an institution, we have close community connections with Kamloops and valued, long-standing relationships with Indigenous communities in the area. SFU operated a campus in Kamloops from 1988 to 2011, and continues to offer programs in the community, such as through Indigenous Studies and the Faculty of Education.


In the 2017 SFU-ARC Walk This Path With Us report, “nothing about us without us” was the dominant theme of feedback and discussions. I always strive to follow that directive and to ensure that our efforts centre Indigenous voices and perspectives. Specifically, over the past days, I have been actively listening to Indigenous leaders and advisors, including Indigenous SFU faculty, staff and students, to understand and take collective action as an institutional community. I have spoken both with established groups, such as the SFU Aboriginal Steering Committee, as well as individuals who hold me accountable. I am grateful for their time, for sharing space, and for their ongoing leadership. These relationships are so meaningful to me; they inform my actions and decisions.

I also attended the Simon Fraser Student Society’s Acknowledgement and Memorial for Tk’emlups te Secwepemc on May 31, and am grateful for their efforts in hosting such a powerful ceremony and in continuing to advocate for further action.

Taking action

As president, knowing when to listen and when to act in support with Indigenous communities across our campus communities and with the local First Nations and other Indigenous organizations is an ongoing commitment to my own reconcili-action. I take this responsibility on in humility and with deep respect. The work that we are called to in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action is further strengthened by our commitment as a public institution in British Columbia’s support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The work is not just one action—it will take multiple actions for the systemic and societal change needed.

Progress toward reconciliation happens across our three campuses, and so it can be challenging to bring it all together. You will find highlights of some of the significant actions taken so far at the bottom of this message, and I encourage you to read the reconciliation progress reports in full.

Here are some of the actions we are currently working towards:

  • Establishing a new Indigenous leadership position. A working group has been struck, co-chaired by Squamish Councillor and Spokesperson and SFU alumnus Chris Lewis and Provost Catherine Dauvergne. This group will provide advice on the position, the portfolio and supports for this new leader. This listening and engagement process will take approximately six months and will be guided and led by Indigenous protocols and practices to understand the needs and wishes of local Indigenous communities, on whose shared territories SFU campuses reside.
  • Supporting the actions called for in Looking Forward... Indigenous Pathways To and Through Simon Fraser University, co-authored by Dr. Michelle Pidgeon, Joe Tobin, Trina Setah, Andrea Leveille, Donna Dunn, Mindy Ghag, Karen Johnson, and Dr. Tania Bubela and released in January 2021. The report has been received by the provost, and work on an Indigenous leadership position is the first implementation step. The provost is also working alongside the Indigenous community at SFU on a funding framework and a three year implementation plan.
  • Entering a Memorandum of Understanding with Tsleil-Waututh Nation and renewing an agreement with Squamish Nation to continue our path in deepening our relationships with local First Nations.
  • Continued emphasis on scholarship programs, such as the Uggla Family Scholarship.
  • Commitment to strike a working group to look at Indigenous naming of spaces and places on our campuses.

There is more we must and will do. I know there is work being done across faculties, departments and units to advance reconciliation at SFU, and I am grateful to those who are already doing this work. In addition, your suggestions on what should be done at the institutional level are welcome and gratefully received. You can share your feedback with me at

Personal commitment

As a settler on these lands, I am continuing my own reckoning with my role in colonialism. My ancestors were homesteaders, which means they started a new life on stolen land. My privileges and advantages stem from this inequity. I must use that privilege to improve opportunities for others.

I call on all non-Indigenous faculty, staff and students of SFU to consider your own actions. Be sure you are educated on the history and legacy of colonialism and residential schools in Canada, and do not make this education a further task for Indigenous people. Get informed, get involved and take your own individual actions. Here are some resources for you to consider. I encourage you to share any additional actions with others in our community.

It is often said that the work of reconciliation is for settlers to take up. I agree with that, and hold myself to that standard. Reconciliation requires a sustained and ongoing commitment from each of us.

Joy Johnson

Reconciliation progress at SFU

Here are some of the major actions taken towards reconciliation at SFU. You can learn more by reading the progress reports in full.

  • Expansion of the Indigenous Student Centre (expansion space opening this Fall).
  • The design of a First Peoples’ Gathering House (FPGH) is underway and being led by an Indigenous architect and SFU Indigenous leads, with input from Indigenous students and faculty, and local First Nations. Site 2 Strand Hall Annex was identified and recommended as the preferred site. The FPGH will be built on this site with funds from the SFU Aboriginal Strategic Initiative, provincial government and other SFU sources.
  • The Faculty of Education has begun creating the TRC Memorial Gardens and Outdoor Classroom, a place-based learning space for all SFU students, staff and faculty.
  • The Growing Community-based Indigenous Language Project (GCILP) designed and presented a minor to improve language degree scaffolding (approved by senate), hired a post-doctoral student to advance research into language proficiency and worked with two communities to apply to the new language proficiency funding available to communities to advance Indigenous language as second language acquisition.
  • An Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre (ICRC) has been created. The Centre will be comprised of both a physical collection of resources to lend, and an online resource guide that will aggregate guides for instructors about Indigenizing curriculum and a selection of resources appropriate for use as course texts, readings, etc. across subject areas.
  • Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program was created to deepen the knowledge base and facilitate challenging conversations about colonialism in Canada’s history.
  • A Masters of Educational Leadership Program (MEd) was collaboratively developed by the Faculty of Education and the Squamish Nation and offered in 2019/20.