On April 5, the first ever meeting of Acadia’s Indigenous Education Advisory Council (IEAC) was held in the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre. The IEAC was initially announced in March of 2018 when Acadia President Dr. Peter Ricketts unveiled his response recommendations made by the Presidential Advisory Council on Decolonization (PAC), which was created in 2016 to determine how as a campus community we should respond to the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Among the many milestone achievements of the PAC, it produced a handbook entitledWorking with Indigenous Peoples at Acadia University – Handbook and Protocols that for the first time at Acadia provided important background and direction to the campus community. The PAC report contained a total of 15 recommendations including the creation of the IEAC and the hiring of a campus advisor to provide support and guidance to Indigenous students. Acadia has also recently launched a new program called Msit No’kmaq, which was created with financial support from the Toronto Dominion Bank, and is designed to increase participation of Indigenous youth in post-secondary education at Acadia.
“The concept of “meaningful reconciliation” has become the buzz phrase across Canadian campuses, and within political institutions and the public sphere. Too often these words are just that… empty words, without commitment, follow through and action. Acadia University has demonstrated that reconciliation is actually about respect, relationship building, peace and friendship - the same foundations that formed the basis of our treaties signed in the 1700s,” says Zabrina Whitman, co-chair along with Kaszas of the IEC. Whitman is a policy analyst with the Mi’kmaw Rights Initiative and a member of the Glooscap First Nation.
“Personally, I have never been on a campus so willing to do the right thing, and so eager to do it in equal partnership with the Indigenous people. This same spirit was reflected at our first IEAC meeting,” she says. “In addition to members from Acadia, representatives from Glooscap, Annapolis Valley, Bear River and Acadia First Nations, the Native Council of Nova Scotia, the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, and Mi’kmaq Kina’matnewey are around the table. Our 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 connection to Mi’kmaw communities.”
When opening the meeting, Ricketts described it as “a historic day” and said that the purpose of the IEAC is to ensure, through its membership composition, that the Indigenous voice is equally represented to that of the University’s.
“The Council is composed of a group of individuals who are positive, eager for change, and respectful of each other’s voices and perspectives,” says Ricketts. “While we have achieved some success so far, we have a lot more to do. Important to moving forward are more student recruitment camps and outreach to our youth. Researchers and community need to be better connected, Indigenous students need a more expansive and appropriate space, and more events about Indigenous cultures are needed on campus for us to learn from one another.”
“When I consider the work we have been doing here at Acadia around decolonization and Indigenization two things stand out in my mind; the IEAC and Msit No’kmaq” says Kaszas. “A key phrase that has been in use in Indigenous politics and activism for a long time is, “nothing about us, without us,” and the creation of the Indigenous Education Advisory Council together with the Msit No’kmaqprogram will ensure that Indigenous voices and concerns are at the centre of decolonization at Acadia, and this will prove to be invaluable as the University moves forward.”
Inaugural Members of the Acadia Indigenous Education Advisory Council (March 2019)