At a special witnessing ceremony last October, Speaker Gabriel George (Tsleil-Waututh) (right) thanked SFU President Andrew Petter (left), on behalf of the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council, for his commitment to reconciliation. During the ceremony, the council presented a 96-page report detailing 34 calls to action to support reconciliation initiatives at the university.

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Reconciliation Through Education: Walking this Path Together

February 14, 2018
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By Diane Luckow

“The process of reconciliation is one of the great national undertakings of our time, and affords us an opportunity to be part of a generation that helps to right the wrongs of the past and to produce a brighter future for all Canadians.”   

                                                                                —  SFU President Andrew Petter

SFU is meeting the challenge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action with a $9-million, three-year strategic investment in projects and initiatives to support reconciliation at all SFU campuses.

After many months of consideration and collaboration last year, SFU’s 18-member Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (ARC) completed a 96-page report, “Walk This Path With Us.” The council presented the report to President Andrew Petter during a special witnessing ceremony in Coast Salish protocol and tradition last October.

An improved SFU environment for Aboriginal students

The report details 34 calls to action to create, support and sustain a changed and improved environment for SFU’s Aboriginal students, staff and faculty. Priority initiatives include developing and supporting Indigenous curriculum; creating safe and culturally appropriate spaces; and providing cultural awareness preparation for all members of the SFU community.

Chris Lewis, Squamish Nation councillor and SFU governor, co-chaired SFU ARC with Kris Magnusson, dean of the Faculty of Education, which was in itself viewed by many to be an act of reconciliation.

Council members included Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members connected with the SFU community. The council also consulted with the Métis Nation of B.C. and the three local First Nations on whose land SFU sits:  the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, as well as the First Nations Education Steering Committee, which is a provincial body that has board member participation from first nations across the province.

The council held eight open forums and 11 council meetings over 11 months to inform the report’s calls to action. At each open forum, the key activity was listening—and making new discoveries. Throughout the process, participants shared their feedback in meaningful ways.

Says Lewis, “While the report is complete, SFU-ARC will continue to encourage Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups at SFU to co-create a preferred future in which SFU is known as a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for Aboriginal students, staff and faculty.”

A long history of Indigenous support at SFU

The university has a long history of providing academic and support programs to Aboriginal students. These include:  the Indigenous Student Centre, university preparatory programs for Aboriginal students interested in attending university, and a host of graduate, professional and undergraduate programs that have been offered at SFU and in the communities it serves.

There is also Indigenous content already embedded in more than 150 courses.

“So much has already been accomplished at SFU,” said one ARC participant. “We have an excellent platform [ARC report] from which to launch the next phase of achievements.”

“Says President Andrew Petter, “We want SFU to become an institution where Indigenous peoples flourish. And while many at SFU have been working hard to support Indigenous students, to respect Indigenous knowledge, and to strengthen ties with Indigenous peoples and communities, the ARC report calls upon us to go further and do more in our efforts to be an instrument for reconciliation.

“In this spirit, we commit ourselves to giving life to this report, and to working collaboratively and inclusively to answer its calls to action.”

SFU-ARC members:

Chris Lewis, co-chair, Squamish Nation
Kris Magnusson, co-chair, dean, Faculty of Education
Kyle Bobiwash, graduate student representative
Joanne Curry, vice-president, External Relations
Sandie Dielissen, graduate student research assistant
Katy Ellsworth, project manager
Elder Margaret George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, SFU Elders Program
Marcia Guno, director, Indigenous Student Centre
Ron Johnston, director, Indigenous Education Office
William Lindsay, director, Office for Aboriginal Peoples
Aoife MacNamara, dean, Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology
Dean Mellow, associate professor, Department of Linguistics
Susan Rhodes, director, University Curriculum and Institutional Liaison
Kristiana Sibson, logistics coordinator
Karen Rose Thomas, undergraduate research assistant
Sheryl Thompson, SFU undergraduate representative
Amy Yang, logistics coordinator
Eldon Yellowhorn, chair, First Nations Studies Program