'Indigenizing' campus: UPEI includes Indigenous leaders in Founders ceremony

UPEI is honouring Indigenous leaders on P.E.I. for their contributions to the school at the annual Recognition of Founders ceremony, for those who have made contributions and sacrifices to bring about the education now offered at UPEI.

Recognition of Founders ceremony Monday to honour contributions to school

Judy Clark, president of the Aboriginal Women's Association of Prince Edward Island, will deliver the opening remarks at UPEI's ceremony recognizing Aboriginal leaders Monday. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

To celebrate the start of a new academic year, UPEI is honouring Indigenous leaders on P.E.I. for their contributions to the school on Monday.

For the last 16 years the school has held a Recognition of Founders ceremony every fall.

It recognizes people who have made contributions and sacrifices to bring about the education now offered at UPEI.

This year for the first time, the school is recognizing the contributions Indigenous people on P.E.I. have made to the school, and their role as founders of P.E.I. 

Several Indigenous groups recognized

Represented at the ceremony will be the Abegweit and Lennox Island First Nation Chiefs, the Native Council of PEI, Aboriginal Women's Association, the UPEI Aboriginal Students Association and The Mawi'omi Aboriginal Student Centre.

It will include traditional drumming, and opening comments from elder Judy Clark.

A public discussion will follow, entitled Indigenizing our Campus in the Spirit of Reconciliation.

Jenna Burke, the Aboriginal student mentor at the Mawi'omi Centre, says there are still ways UPEI can be made more welcoming for Aboriginal students, including a full-time academic support worker. (CBC)
"I hope that it means that the university is on a path to make sure that every one of its students is leaving the university, they are graduating with the real history of Canada," said UPEI student Jenna Burke with the Mawi'Omi centre. 

"The myth of 'nobody's land' and what that's done to people — really it was a land grab."

Burke is also a board member of the Native Council of PEI.

'Indigenizing' UPEI

She will be addressing how UPEI can go about "indigenizing" the campus.

She said for her, that means making the university setting more welcoming for Indigenous students.

One of the ways she'd like to see that happen is by hiring a full-time academic support worker through the Mawi'Omi centre. Currently that support worker is only part time.

Burke said the centre should also have a record of all Indigenous students, to be able to communicate with them about social events and supports.

Currently the record of Indigenous students can only be used for statistical purposes.

Burke said a request has been made to UPEI administration to allow those students to check off a box if they're willing to be contacted, but so far no change has been made.

Burke would also like to have an elder in residence, and see more Indigenous courses offered.

"I hope they address the ignorance and misinformation that's been perpetrated by past scholars," she said.

As far as how the university should move forward to "indigenize" the campus, Burke said for any real change to happen, these decisions need to be generated within the First Nations communities on P.E.I., not the UPEI administration.