My father remembers walking the halls of the University of Manitoba as a student in the 1970s and not seeing another Indigenous person for days.
After over a century of draconian control of Indigenous communities it wasn’t surprising that he—along with many of the Indigenous university students at that time—enrolled in law. Indigenous communities needed advocates badly. And even as many of those in the first wave of students were emerging from the worst educational experience in the country, they bravely chose to continue a path of education at university. These first Indigenous lawyers were courageous and strong individuals: people like Ovide Mercredi [LLB/77], Marion Meadmore [LLB/77] and Harold Cardinal. My father, Murray Sinclair [LLB/79, LLD/02], too.
In the 1970s and 1980s Indigenous students expanded into other parts of the university as Indigenous communities began to take ownership in education systems, health institutions and child welfare agencies— stepping forward as teachers and administrators, doctors and nurses, and social workers and police.
This is also the time native studies departments were being created in universities across Canada, including here at the University of Manitoba. Fast-forward to the 1990s and we saw a third wave of Indigenous students entering academic areas as diverse as fine arts and astronomy— resisting the status quo in those areas, challenging norms and expectations and changing the world along the way.
In 2003, the first Indigenous university in Canada (The First Nations University of Canada) opened its doors, offering degree programs in every major area. What will a fourth wave of Indigenous students at universities looks like? Hard to say, but I recently spoke to the high-school graduates from my reserve and 80 per cent of them announced they would be entering post-secondary institutions. Gone are the days of my father. Now I see hundreds of Indigenous faces as I walk the hallways of our university. Soon there will be thousands. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go to make our university inclusive and supportive of Indigenous peoples. I’m looking forward to seeing the first Indigenous dean or provost at the U of M, or an Indigenous president of a U15 university in this country. I, for one, can’t wait to see the new wave.
– Niigaan Sinclair, Acting Department Head, Native Studies, University of Manitoba
Partner, Cibinel Architects
On National Aboriginal Day (June 21) I was at the groundbreaking ceremony for Southeast Collegiate, a project my firm has worked on for the last two years. This high school for Indigenous teens offers a holistic approach to education, following the advice of Elders to develop mind, body, heart and spirit.
It was a beautiful day. The 2016 Collegiate graduates were gathered around the lectern listening to speeches, prayers and the beat of the drum. The words, delivered by individuals who care deeply for the students’ success, addressed the personal responsibility of leadership.
I started to think about what it really means to be an Indigenous leader, and what it will mean for students in the future.
It means what it has always meant: to act for the advancement of Indigenous peoples. Leaders have to accept their role as the architects of policies and plans. To do that, we have to analyze and understand the social system and demographics of our people, and design a way forward that will result in the reality we want. Indigenous leaders must achieve all this while still demonstrating courage, building consensus and bridges across cultures.
It is a daunting task, which is why Indigenous leadership in 2016 must increasingly be a network rather than an individual. No one person can be everything we need. The difficult choices that await us will require a community of leadership to enact.
Limited resources require careful applications to find the best tool for change. And I believe education is the only tool that can create sustainable demographic change. Once established, it is self-perpetuating. Above all else, an ever-increasing focus on creating the conditions for educational success should be the work of the next generation of Indigenous leaders. So, what does being an Indigenous leader mean in 2016? It means being a planner and an implementer. It means supporting our students, like those who stood by the lectern at Southeast Collegiate, and doing everything we can to make sure there are many, many more of them.
Mary Jane Loustel
[BCOMM(HONS)/88, CA/91, MA/11] National Aboriginal Program Executive, IBM Canada
I was of the generation that was raised to believe my ancestors were treasonous.
In my early days of learning at the University of Manitoba, there wasn’t much discussion about Indigenous heritage, nor about the pathway that took us into those classrooms.
My strong sense of pride and curiosity drove my ambitions. I was the first in my family to graduate with a university degree and the first to explore the world of business.
It was rare back then to be a woman in the profession of accounting, never mind being Métis and a young mother.
Today, I work with IBM Canada seeking to increase Indigenous participation in the technology sector. In my work, I walk a bridge that is designed to build relationships and understanding between governments, corporations and communities about Indigenous inclusion.
I lean heavily on the seven teachings to guide me in my work: Wisdom, Truth, Honesty, Courage, Love, Respect, Humility. These teachings give me strength, setting a framework for vision and work ethic that builds collaboration.
To me leadership means forging new pathways, whether that is a new experience for yourself, your family, your community or in your career. Leadership comes with the responsibility of ensuring that those who follow you are in good care. My daughters are now early in their career and I believe my generation has a role to play in giving these future leaders a hand into the hallways of governments, corporations and community organizations.
I want to encourage youth, inspire their sense of pride and make it easier for them to access education and to find careers on pathways that are perhaps new to them, but essential to the fullness of reconciliation.
Dr. Marcia Anderson-Decoteau
Look closely at a Wampum belt—a sacred piece of clothing in First Nations culture known as the Kaswentha—and you’ll see two rows of purple beads. They represent Indigenous and non-Indigenous nations travelling parallel to each other in their respective rows.
Look even more closely and it’s said you’ll understand how each row carries their culture, laws, traditions, customs and ways of living. Surrounding these purple rows are white beads, representing peace, friendship and mutual respect.
Indigenous leadership today means navigating the processes, the cultures, the people, and the laws of both rows of Wampum beads—as well as the space in between.
In one row, I am the head of the section of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Health within the University of Manitoba and a medical officer of health within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. I keep my western medical knowledge up to date, understand the policies and processes of both institutions, and build and nurture relationships essential for institutional change.
I need to address multiple levels of racism and ensure our health systems and workforces are fully prepared to contribute to closing the gaps in Indigenous health.
In the other row, I am an Indigenous woman and mother. I need to heal and continually re-strengthen my identity as a Cree-Saulteaux woman by being present in our circles and communities, growing my understanding of the Treaties, sovereignty and nationhood from Indigenous perspectives and learning from—and being guided by— Knowledge Keepers.
I need their strength and support to continue to work in the other row. Sitting with a Knowledge Keeper in a lodge recently, he shared the following quote by Chief Sitting Bull with respect to the relationships that need to happen with institutions: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”
THE ART OF LEADERSHIP
Robert Houle [BA/72, DLitt/14] is a contemporary artist and curator who has spent decades advancing the Indigenous art scene in Canada. His leadership has introduced and inspired many Canadian artists and art enthusiasts.
“Indigenous leadership is a new expression. I’m not quite sure what it really means,” he says. “However, based on my 40-year career, I think leadership requires a more proactive undermining of the cognitive discrimination caused by colonial domination and violence. The systemic inequality faced by Indigenous people despite the politics of representation has affected contemporary Indigenous art.”
He adds: “It needs to be redefined by a more active engagement with the unpredictable mutation of the evolving canon of modern art. It is not a formless multiplicity, rather a manifestation of multiple modernities where Indigenous abstraction can create a space for a dialogue on national identity, which should be based on reconstruction and reconciliation.”