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Looking at past and into future at Concordia

Concordia University plans to indigenize its campus, and improve curriculum and services to be more inclusive for Indigenous students attending the Montreal institution. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

Concordia’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group (IDLG) launched its action plan last Thursday to highlight the strategies of moving the university towards “a more equitable and inclusive future.”

A document, the Indigenous Directions Action Plan: Concordia’s Pathway Towards Decolonizing and Indigenizing the University, was created in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action through the one-and-half-year consultations with the Concordia’s Indigenous faculty, students and partners.

According to the plan, with 39 recommendations, intended outcomes, tasks and timelines, Concordia brings into action concrete steps towards decolonization and Indigenization at the university, in order “to co-construct a new, shared future based on responsibility, reciprocity, and respect.”

Overall, the action plan aims to put forth structures for greater participations of Indigenous people in Concordia’s governance, the integration of Indigenous knowledge into existing courses, enhancing the cultural environment, supporting recruitment, admission, and graduation of Indigenous people, and ways to showcase the innovative research done by Indigenous faculty and students.

Concordia provost Graham Carr said the Indigenous Directions Action Plan is part of what makes Concordia a next generation institution.

“We want to be a university that is in continuous change for the better, we want to be a university that understands our past but that is looking to the future; one of the key elements of Indigenous research and teaching that happens at Concordia is focus on the future,” he said.

Carr believes the plan signals a place where Indigenous people, cultures and languages can thrive.

“One of the things that we can be proud of ourselves is being the university that supports diversity,” Carr said, “Many of us believe that one of the key ingredients is diversity of the student population and the Indigenous Directions Action Plan is an important reminder about it.”

Carr thinks this document will be enriched through time by practice and learning.

“University is a place where we all come to learn, all of us, not just students,” he said, “It is a privilege to learn new things and to reflect on the things you may have thought you knew before. Indigenizing universities is to create spaces where people are self-reflective about the reality of the institutions in which we work, and to recognize that universities are kind of knowledge keepers in society, including Indigenous knowledge.”

The action plan calls for six principal mandates: governance and community participation, curriculum and pedagogy, institutional environment, Indigenous students, Indigenous faculty and staff, and Indigenous research.

Heather Igloliorte, associate professor of art history and special advisor to the provost on Advancing Indigenous Knowledges, who participated in the development of the action plan, said the IDLG took the responsibility to create a tool for Concordians to move the community towards better times and education.

“Concordia’s mission is to be welcoming, engaged, and committed to innovation and excellence in education,” she said. “We cannot achieve this mission without Indigenous Peoples, without Indigenous presence, and without Indigenous excellence.”

Igloliorte thinks the recommendations are not perfect solutions to many challenges to reconciliation, “that we and our key stakeholders have observed and experienced.”

“Rather, we have set out a number of achievable actions that we believe have the potential to transform to the university staff, faculties and students,” she said.

Igloliorte said the group is open to the new ideas to make the results of the plan visible in all areas of the university.

“Our hope is grounded in the resilience of Indigenous Peoples’ connection to the past, present and future,” she said, “The courage that our university has demonstrated in creating a meaningful space in which Indigenous voices and perspectives are centered in the development and articulation of a vision for the future and the beginnings of a path moving us towards that future together.”

As mentioned in the document, with all administrations and faculties keeping “track of Concordia’s successes and challenges,” the IDLG is planning to publish a final report in Spring 2022, “which includes a roadmap for the future based on the outcomes of the Action Plan’s three-year mandate.”

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