Western's first-ever Indigenous strategic plan was approved by the University Senate at its last meeting on Oct. 21.
The purpose, as stated in the plan's draft, is to "elevate indigenous voices and agency to engage all faculty, staff, students and communities in advancing excellence in indigenous research, education, and campus life."
“The goal of the strategic plan is to leverage what we’re already doing well and identify the gap and try to work to continue to resource and improve on all of these types of things," said Rick Ezekiel, director of research, assessment and planning in the student experience office.
The plan states a number of strategic directions including strengthening and building relationships with indigenous communities, nurturing an inclusive campus culture and improving indigenous students' experience at Western.
Ezekiel added that a goal of the plan is to ensure that indigenous faculty, staff and students at Western have equal access to services and an equal likelihood to have a positive experience during their time at Western.
Ezekiel said the plan has been in the works for approximately two years, and part of his role was to overlook the consultation process. In the fall of 2014, the planning process began by reviewing existing data on campus and at other institutions.
Following that in the fall of 2015, campus wide consultations with students, faculty and staff took place in the form of focus groups. Ezekiel said over 600 people were consulted.
Research and consultations with other institutions took place, including the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia.
But Ezekiel noted ”The process of developing an indigenous strategic plan is necessarily local. It really needs to involve conversations with the local indigenous communities and address local needs at our institution.”
The timing of the plan parallels the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and their calls to action on education, including:
- Federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education
- Protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, including the teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses
-Post-secondary institutions creating university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages
Under the indigenous teaching and learning strategic direction, the plan says strategies to increase indigenous content in undergraduate programs will be looked at, including the possibility of mandatory courses. Two Canadian institutions (University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University) have added an indigenous course requirement to their curriculums.
Ezekiel said some logistical factors need to be ironed out before Western could take on similar measures. The capacity of professors to teach the material needs to be organized and Western needs to further look into approaches at different institutions.
For example, Ezekiel said, embedding indigenous content into courses in each faculty and program has been effective at other institutions and would enable students to learn about indigenous studies within their own field. The Faculty of Education has already made it mandatory to take a course in indigenous studies in order to graduate.
Echoing parts of the plan, Chantelle Richmond, a geography professor and indigenous faculty member, said it is important for Western to hire more indigenous faculty. Currently, only 0.5 per cent of Western's faculty are indigenous members.
Ezekiel said implementation of the plan will be overlooked by a vice-provost, but the details have not been finalized yet. Ezekiel said he predicts annual reviews of the plan.
"Strategic plans are going to be important for building the ideas and building the framework to operationalize this, but at the end of the day it's only going to be an idea or it's only going to be nice work on paper, until we actually see it materialize," Richmond said.
Ezekiel noted the plan will demonstrate Western's institutional commitment to enriching the experiences of indigenous individuals on campus, as soon as it is passed at the Board of Governors, Western's highest authoritative body.