In October and November 2020 I participated in a BCcampus-supported series of workshops called the Fall Indigenous Series, a six-week set of sessions focusing on Pulling Together: A Guide for Leaders and Administrators. The series was facilitated by Marlene Erickson and Jewell Gilles. Here are excerpts from their bios, from a BCcampus post previewing the series:
Marlene Erickson grew up in Nak’azdli (also known as Fort St. James). She is the Executive Director of Aboriginal Education at the College of New Caledonia, where she has worked for over 25 years in various roles. he has served as director for the Yinka Dene Language Institute, and as a director, advisor, and chairperson for the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. She is an executive board member of the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), a policy and advocacy organization that represents and works on behalf of First Nations communities in British Columbia.
Jewell Gillies is Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation (northern Vancouver Island). After completing 2 years of study toward a Criminal Justice Diploma at the University of the Fraser Valley, Jewell spent time as a police officer in Vancouver. However, after six years in law enforcement, Jewell had to accept that the uniform was a barrier to the goals they wanted to achieve, as it represented a disturbing history for those Jewell was trying to connect to and help. … Now, in their work in the Aboriginal Services Department of Okanagan College, Jewell is recognizing that they are in a better position to effect real change.
For a short overview of the series, see a recap post about this series on the BCcampus website, which includes the amazing graphic recording works from each session by Michelle Buchholz, of Wet’suwet’en heritage.
I’m going to do a few (belated) posts reflecting on my experience reading Pulling Together: A Guide for Leaders and Administrators, and participating in this series, as a way to help ensure that I better remember and carry forward what I have learned from this incredibly impactful series. It was made so impactful both by the facilitators, but also by the participation of many people in post-secondary institutions in BC who shared their thoughts, their emotional reactions, their fears, their hopes, their successes and mistakes, and more. Thank you to you all!
Indigenization as a journey
The Pulling Together guide for leaders and administrators has a section introducing Indigenization, emphasizing that it is a “journey” and a “process” rather than a static destination. The authors quote “Reconciliation within the Academy: Why Is Indigenization So Difficult?” by Michael Bopp, Lee Brown, and Jonathan Robb, who explain Indigenization the following way:
Indigenization is the process of creating a supportive and comfortable space inside our institutions within which Indigenous people can succeed. But “success” is a very big word here. It’s not just success in students completing coursework or programs. It is also “success” in reframing knowledge production and transmission within the academy from an Indigenous perspective. (2017, p. 2)
In the series, we talked about Indigenization as not demolishing or getting rid of all non-Indigenous teachings or approaches, but creating space for Indigenous ways of knowing and being in an equitable way.
The University of British Columbia has recently finalized an Indigenous Strategic Plan as a framework to help guide such a journey. It forms UBC’s response to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice. It is also UBC Vancouver’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; UBC Okanagan set out their response earlier.
As we begin the work of implementing this plan at the university, I decided to participate in this Indigenous series to help me prepare.
The Pulling Together guide is organized around seven stages of the journey, and the workshop sessions were similarly organized. The overarching theme was of taking a canoe journey together, and the stages are (using Chinook jargon):
Mamook kloshe – prepare
Mahsh – boat launch
Isick – paddle
Elip nanitch – discover
Iskum – gather
Lolo illahee – bring home
Okoke nikas – share
We discussed how this journey requires some “heavy pullers”–people who work hard to drive the canoe forward. This can be non-Indigenous allies, while Indigenous Elders, leaders and others guide our direction. We participants in the series were invited to be part of the heavy pullers and encouraged to reflect on how we can contribute to that through our institutional roles and also in other aspects of our lives.
The first two sessions in the series were about preparing and launching the boat. These are connected in the Guide to Chetwood, the Black Bear. Notice the emphasis on what to do before you start paddling–the preparation is crucially important. Just like one would need to do careful planning and preparation for a long canoe journey (such as knowing the purpose, planning the route, preparing food and supplies), one should do the same before embarking on a journey such as the transformational change called for by the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan.
An important part of preparation is to reflect on and clarify one’s “why” before one considers “what” and “how”: why am I engaged in this work? What drives me, particularly, to do so? What values and goals underlie my efforts? It’s important to try to dig deeper than only reflecting on how doing so is part of one’s role in an institution…how can it tie more deeply to what one believes in, what matters, what one deeply cares about? This motivation is importantly personal–it has to resonate with oneself, and requires that everyone engage in their own reflection and efforts to clarify their “why.”
To support such efforts, we reflected on our own values, and also considered a set of values from Nishnaabeg author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Dancing on our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence (2011): courage, truth, respect, love, honesty, wisdom, humility (more on these values from the Pulling Together leaders and administrators guide). One of the many things that stood out to me from the discussion of amongst participants is how important it is to consider how we can bring our hearts, our emotions, our care and love into this work in addition to our heads, our reason, and our roles in the university. Reflecting further on our values and how we are tied to them by emotions, can help.
A quote from the Leaders and Administrators guide sticks with me: Joan Yates, former VP Student Experience at Camosun College is quoted in the Guide: “If you do not get people’s hearts engaged in [Indigenization] then you are not going to see change.”
Fear and courage
A few times during the series we talked about fear, including fear of making a mistake, of appropriation, of misrepresentation. I have felt this many times (and continue to do so!). But it is important to move forward as thoughtfully and carefully as possible, to do the research we need to do in order to do the work, which can include reading, listening, discussing, connecting with communities, and more. Fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing and hold one back from contributing to the heavy pulling.
Preparing thoughtfully can help, but mistakes are likely to happen and what matters is that one takes up these as opportunities for further learning. I am working to keep that in mind as I pull.