UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy will shape the institution for generations to come
The University of Calgary today unveiled its Indigenous Strategy, ii’ taa’ poh’ to’ p, to the campus and broader community. The strategy is the result of nearly two years of community dialogue and campus engagement, and involved the work of a number of people from the university, Indigenous communities and community stakeholders.
This strategy provides an opportunity for the university to take an important and meaningful step on the path towards reconciliation to reset, revisit, and revitalize our relationship with Indigenous communities throughout the region. The strategy is mindfully responsive to the recommendations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Calls to Action cited in the Final Report on Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The 2,200 points of contact garnered through multiple community dialogues, focus groups and a public survey informed the content of the strategy and laid the foundations of the university’s future in terms of Indigenization and decolonization.
A different process from day one, grounded in Indigenous worldviews
“We are working towards authentic reconciliation, walking together with Indigenous communities on parallel paths, while creating an ethical space for authentic conversation that will enhance mutual understanding and respect,” says Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic), who also chaired the Indigenous Strategy Steering Committee.
“As a post-secondary institution, we have a responsibility to play a key role in reconciliation efforts. It is time for our entire university family to come together to renew and deepen our relationship with Indigenous communities, so that we may flourish together.”
The journey began with the choice to follow a parallel path of development, informed by an Elder Advisory Council, a steering committee and two parallel documents: the Indigenous Strategy Task Force Terms of Reference and the Journey towards an Indigenous Strategy (An Indigenous Framework). From this direction, ethical space was created for a four-stage journey that focused on the wisdom and collection of stories from an Indigenous worldview to achieve a common vision.
Two parallel models that tell a story
The strategy is grounded in an important Indigenous concept, referred to as ‘in a good way.’ This ideology demonstrates the importance of working with clear purpose, integrity, moral strength and communal spirit. Within the strategy are a conceptual and cultural model — both of which articulate the path ahead.
The conceptual model reflects Indigenous ideologies regarding transformation and renewal, articulated in four focus areas or visionary circles: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Doing, Ways of Connecting, and Ways of Being. The cultural model for the strategy mirrors these circles, and tells the story from a unique symbolic perspective.
Traditional Knowledge Keepers provided support and guidance throughout the process of developing the cultural model; they also recommended Indigenous-based themes that could then be translated into cultural symbols. Dr. Reg Crowshoe, Piikuni elder and member of the University of Calgary Senate, transferred these symbols in ceremony to the University of Calgary on June 21, 2017. On the same day, Kainai elder Andy Black Water gifted the strategy with its Blackfoot name, ii’ taa’ poh’ to’ p, which means a place to rejuvenate and re-energize during a journey. The university has been blessed and honoured by these cultural gifts.
Moving forward for generations not yet born
While this is the fourth stage of the process, it can be seen as the true beginning of what will come next for UCalgary through an evolutionary journey. The journey toward reconciliation has just begun and the Indigenous Strategy comes at a pivotal time for the university. With the Eyes High Strategy 2017-22 vision, the Institutional Sustainability Strategy, and the Campus Mental Health Strategy in place, the Indigenous Strategy adds a pathway to create and rebuild relationships with Indigenous communities.
The path ahead is challenging, and will demand strong leadership, deep learning, communication, openness and trust. Recommendations from the strategy will be implemented in the coming weeks, months and years as we move forward with promise, hope and caring for the future.