Manitoba

U of M needs to take 'honest, hard look' at Indigenous leader position after resignation, prof says

A longtime professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba says the resignation of the university's vice-provost of Indigenous engagement shows its administration needs to take a hard look at what it wants the position to be.
Niigaan Sinclair is a longtime professor of Native Studies at University of Manitoba. He said he knew Lynn Lavallé​e had been feeling frustrated in her position as vice-provost of Indigenous engagement at the University of Manitoba for some time. (CBC)

A longtime professor of Native studies at the University of Manitoba says the resignation of the university's vice-provost of Indigenous engagement shows its administration needs to take a hard look at what it wants the position to be.

Lynn Lavallée held the position for only one year before handing in her resignation last week, after she says her efforts to fight systemic racism at the school were met with frequent resistance from administration.

Niigaan Sinclair, who used to head the university's Native studies department, said he had known Lavallé​e's resignation was coming for some time.

"I knew about the struggles that were happening at the administrative level that Lynn was feeling," he said during an interview on CBC's Up to Speed. 

Sinclair said he thinks Lavallé​e felt "very much an island" trying to advocate for Indigenous issues and initiatives at the upper administrative level of the university, when in reality, Indigenous issues touch every faculty and program in some way. He pointed out that students have also raised concerns in recent months over the school's commitment to Indigenization.

"Even dentistry you have to have competency in Indigenous pedagogy to work in the Faculty of Dentistry," he said.

"But I think the Faculty of Dentistry or other faculties are sometimes struggling to understand what is the relationship between Indigenous pedagogy and their faculties."

With Lavallé​e's resignation, Sinclair said he thinks the university needs to re-examine what the purpose of that position is, and how to live up to their pledge of making the U of M a university of Indigenous excellence.

"[The university] really needs to take an honest, hard look, and step up ... to not issue statements, but to speak and come present to meetings in which we have some hard conversation of what it means to share space."

"What does it mean to talk about creating a university of Indigenous excellence?"

University of Manitoba president David Barnard declined an interview about Lynn Lavallé​e's resignation.

But in an emailed statement the university's provost and vice-president (academic) Janice Ristock said she respected Lavallée's opinions.

"She is deeply committed to Indigenous achievement and to bringing about the changes needed to facilitate the success of the Indigenous community of students, staff and faculty at the University of Manitoba. We benefit from listening carefully to her voice and her perspective," she said.

She went on to say that fulfilling the school's strategic plan commitments "can be challenging."

"But resolving to persist in this pursuit is critically important," she said. "The University of Manitoba remains firm in its commitment to bring about transformations at the institutional level that will facilitate Indigenous achievement."

With files from Aviva Jacob