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Op-ed: It’s time to decolonize academia

December 9, 2016 — 

The following is an op-ed published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 9, 2016 from Deborah G. Young, former executive lead of Indigenous Achievement at the University of Manitoba:


Advancing indigenous education at the University of Manitoba is an important and necessary discussion. As the U of M’s former executive lead on indigenous achievement, a position I proudly held for five years, I believe in the work so many of the university’s faculty, staff, students and community members have dedicated themselves to for the advancement of indigenous education and research.

I refrained from commenting on “Strong commitment needed to all areas of indigenous education” (Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 14) while the U of M and the University of Manitoba Faculty Association were in conciliation. During the association’s strike, emotions were understandably high, and now with an agreement reached and the strike over, the time has come for mending relationships, re-establishing trust and respect and rebuilding bridges.

Canada is entering a new era of relationship building between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Through increased dialogue and greater awareness, all Canadians are beginning to understand the complexity of historical, social and economic issues indigenous peoples continue to face. Reconciliation is something many people are thinking about, and they are asking: why didn’t I know about residential schools? What is reconciliation? What can I do to help?

Canadian universities, colleges and schools are asking these same questions. Each institution should take responsibility for looking at how to integrate indigenous history, perspectives and knowledge into its curricula. The creation of senior leadership positions within the academy is one way institutions are forging new indigenous pathways to planning.

Equally important is to create new or more indigenous spaces in our learning environments. It is also not a one-size-fits-all model, either. Each learning institution must develop its own indigenous-education framework that meets the needs of its student body. Curriculum must also reflect the history, diversity and indigenous languages of that particular area, as our nations are not homogenous.

I believe the U of M is leading innovative approaches to indigenize all areas of learning through inclusive curriculum development, creating more indigenous spaces, celebrating indigenous alumni and developing a rich array of indigenous student supports. I witnessed the commitment from every faculty and its leadership, senior administration, as well the full support from the broader non-academic community such as student services, the alumni association, marketing and communication and the various student associations — indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

Read the full op-ed here


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