Acadia Launches Decolonization Strategy as Response to Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

Acadia President Dr. Peter Ricketts receives an eagle feather from Elder Joe Michaels

Acadia University is proudly located on Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq People is the territorial recognition that appears with increasing frequency on Acadia University’s campus and in its communications with stakeholders.

In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report issued a challenge to Canadian universities to make themselves more accessible to indigenous students and to find new ways engage more directly with First Nations communities. On March 6, 2018, Acadia University President Dr. Peter Ricketts released Acadia’s decolonization strategy, opening new doors for indigenous students and scholars and new opportunities for collaboration with neigbouring Mi’kmaq communities and their leaders.

The strategy released by Ricketts follows recommendation made by the President’s Advisory Council (PAC) on Decolonization which was created by former Acadia President Ray Ivany in 2016.  The Council included faculty, staff, and students from Acadia, as well as community members drawn from Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq communities. Chaired by Dean of Arts Dr. Jeff Hennessy and Aboriginal Student Advisor Dr. Donna Hurlburt, the Council submitted its final report in December 2017 and produced a handbook entitled Working with Indigenous Peoples at Acadia University – Handbook and Protocols which has proven to be a valuable tool to increase understanding of Indigenous cultures and knowledge on campus. It contains important information about protocols, services, and Indigenous student and community supports on campus.

The Council’s final report contained 15 short, medium, and long term actionable recommendations which Ricketts accepted either completely or their intent and direction.

“I want to commend the PAC for bringing forward recommendations that both respond directly to the TRC and reflect Acadia’s commitment to inclusiveness and community engagement.” said Ricketts. “Universities in Canada have a unique opportunity to build the bridges necessary to transform the way Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities work together to respond to our common challenges. Acadia’s goal is to improve the level of support we provide to Indigenous students, broaden cultural understanding across campus and within academic disciplines, and deepen our already strong connection to neighbouring First Nations communities.”

The PAC recommendations include short-term actions that will be implemented almost immediately to longer term actions that will require changes to curriculum and Board and Senate governance. They are summarized below.

  1. Community Engagement: A community engagement plan will be developed to establish meaningful dialogue with neighbouring First Nations communities, Province-wide organizations representing Indigenous Peoples, Acadia’s Indigenous students. This will be led by the PAC and will include a survey to gather data on current campus practices and levels of knowledge and engagement.
  2. President’s Advisory Council: The current PAC will be replaced by a permanent formal body comprised of internal and external members. Before the current PAC is dissolved, it will create terms of reference for the new body similar to those that govern the role and function of Aboriginal Education Councils that are commonly found on many university campuses across Canada.
  3. Environmental Scan: Related to the first two recommendations, the PAC will complete an environmental scan of current student support, programming and facilities to determine the priorities and goals of decolonization at Acadia. It will also survey the initiatives and resources at other universities both in the region and nationally.
  4. Indigenous Student Support: The PAC recommends that Acadia examine its recruitment, admission, funding, retention, outreach, enrolment rates, and general support for Indigenous students in order to build a community and enhance a system that is welcoming, supportive, and relevant for Indigenous students. It also recommends that the same analysis be applied to African Nova Scotian students. In Acadia’s upcoming budget, the resource requirement to complete this work will be identified.
  5. Advisor and Coordinator of Indigenous Affairs: The PAC recommends that a full-time position be created to combine Indigenous student advising and coordination of Indigenous affairs at Acadia to replace the current part-time Aboriginal Student Advisor with a dual reporting relationship to the Executive Director of Student Services (student advising) and the President of Acadia University (coordination of Indigenous Affairs). The part-time advisor has been immediately moved to full-time and the position and support resources have been included in the 2018-19 budget. Simultaneously, the location of Acadia’s Aboriginal Gathering Space and Resource Centre will be reviewed to ensure it meets the needs of Indigenous students.
  6. Campus Literacy: All faculty, staff, and students should be given opportunities to learn about reconciliation, Indigenous peoples and specifically Mi’kmaw culture, treaties and treaty rights, and decolonization more broadly. This should include professional development sessions, guest speakers and facilitators, structured discussion sessions, and outreach opportunities to local Mi’kmaw communities. Through the Advisor and Coordinator of Indigenous Affairs, a literacy strategy will be developed and implemented.
  7. Decolonization Website: A website will be developed that will serve as a central hub containing decolonization resources, the recommendations of the PAC, a list of campus events relating to decolonization, and external links to local, federal, provincial and local Indigenous organizations. It will be linked to Acadia’s home page, the Office of the President Indigenous Affairs and other appropriate web pages.
  8. Territorial Acknowledgement: Recognition of Mi’kmaq traditional territory is already being used voluntarily on campus, and in many university communications and at events. However, the PAC will consult with Mi’kmaq leaders to determine the appropriate wording both written spoken that can be formally adopted for use in campus communications and at campus events.
  9. Mawio’mi: This annual gathering of Mi’kmaq community members, elders and officials, along with the Acadia and Wolfville communities has become an important annual or biannual event on campus. It is important that Mawio’mi be formally recognize as an Acadia event, and that it remains as a true community activity, engaging those who have been instrumental in building it from its grass roots initiation. Starting in the 2018-19 budget year, a formal budget allocation will be assigned to the Coordinator of Indigenous Affairs to support Mawio’mi.
  10. Artwork and Indigenous Gifts: The Acadia Art Gallery retains a small collection of Mi’kmaq art works. These should be displayed prominently on campus with suitable explanatory texts about the artists and nature of the work. Once the permanent council replacing the PAC is established, a sub-group or circle on this issue should be tasked with developing proposals for the University regarding the collection and display of Indigenous art and artifacts.
  11. Mi’kmaq Language Course: Reviving Indigenous languages is one of the central principles of reconciliation. In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the PAC recommends that Acadia should begin to provide introductory courses in Mi’kmaq for all interested students, and that this should satisfy language course requirements in Arts degrees. It may be necessary to collaborate with other institutions with similar goals or established Mi’kmaq language programs and Acadia Vice-President Academic will be tasked with leading this initiative.
  12. Elder in Residence: As Acadia builds its capacity to support Indigenous students, faculty, and staff, the appointment of an Elder-in-Residence will be an important step forward and consistent with the increasingly common practice on university campuses across Canada. Once the PAC replacement has been established and the Advisor and Coordinator position and the associated budget to support Indigenous Affairs are in place, Acadia will address the Elder in Residence program as a fundraising priority through the Office of Advancement.
  13. Governance: The PAC recommends that the University Senate, the Board of Governors, and the Acadia Student’s Union allocate standing positions for Indigenous representatives. These longer term governance change requests will be taken by the President to these bodies once success has been achieved with the much more urgent changes to Indigenous student support services and community outreach.
  14. Indigenous Faculty Positions: The PAC recommend that the Academic Planning Committee of Acadia’s Senate develop an institutional plan for the recruitment and retention of Faculty members who are Indigenous and who have expertise in Indigenous ways of knowing and learning in various subjects in all faculties. Hiring Indigenous faculty members is one of the most lasting impacts that any university can do to increase Indigenisation on campus and it must be part of an institutional strategy. The Vice-President Academic will follow up on this recommendation with the Senate APC.
  15. Curriculum: Several Faculty members and Departments have already established Indigenous content and courses as part of Acadia’s curriculum. The PAC recommends that the Senate Curriculum Policy Committee discuss a strategy for developing courses and content throughout the various subject areas across the campus, with an examination of best practices for delivering such courses/content. With a critical mass of courses, the possibility also exists for the creation of an Interdisciplinary program in Indigenous Studies. This recommendation goes hand-in-hand with the hiring of Indigenous faculty and one of the initial tasks of the council replacing the PAC will be to develop a Coordinated Indigenous Academic Strategy for Acadia that would be presented to the Senate for consideration. Development of this strategy will be undertaken with due care and consultation with Indigenous people and communities.

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