Indigenous community at Concordia recommends steps for university to decolonize and Indigenize

The university's Indigenous Directions Leadership Group released an action plan to to improve the experiences of Indigenous students enrolled, Indigenous faculty and staff employed, and the university’s relationship with Indigenous communities in and around the city.

Recommended actions include awareness programs, creation of an Indigenous Cultural Space, renaming buildings

William Lindsay started his position as senior director of Indigenous Directions in January. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Indigenous faculty, staff and students at Concordia University in Montreal have unveiled their path toward "a more equitable and inclusive future."

On Thursday, the university's Indigenous Directions Leadership Group launched a 39 point action plan, created, in part, to respond to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

"The action plan that we've created is envisioned as a guide and tool," said Heather Igloliorte, an associate professor in the department of art history and Special Advisor to the Provost on Advancing Indigenous Knowledges.

"We set out a number of achievable concrete actions under key areas that have the potential to transform governance, students, faculty and staff, our cultural climate, community engagement, curriculum and pedagogy and research," said Igloliorte at the public launch of the action plan.

The Indigenous Directions Leadership Group was established in 2016 with a three-year mandate to explore, identify and recommend priority areas where Concordia can improve its responsiveness to the TRC's Principles for Reconciliation and Calls to Action.

Recommended actions include offering decolonizing, anti-racist Indigenous awareness training to administration, as well as similar programs and instruction for faculty members and students at large across the university. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

It also drew inspiration from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Universities Canada's Principles on Indigenous Education, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"This is a day for Concordia to be thankful to have a new opportunity to begin something fresh which undoubtably should have begun a long time ago," said Graham Carr, Provost and Vice-President, Academic at Concordia.

"For me, the focus of response does not mean to wake up one morning and say that the university ticked all the boxes of the recommendations. Instead the focus should really be on the action part."

Sensitivity training

Some of the recommendations include offering decolonizing and anti-racist Indigenous awareness programs for faculty members, administration, and students; the creation of an Indigenous Cultural Space on campus and renaming or naming new spaces and buildings to highlight Indigenous presence and history.

The leadership group also wants admissions processes to be revised so that the university has accurate data on how many Indigenous students are enrolled. William Lindsay, senior director of Indigenous Directions, said the work on that recommendation has already begun.

One of the mandates of the action plan includes to increase recruitment, admission, retention and graduation of Indigenous students. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"There's some government regulations that kind of tie your hands about how you can actually ask who's an Indigenous student," he said. 

"What the university is doing is coming up with its own way of asking students if they're First Nations, Métis or Inuit in their application process. We're going to start doing that this year so we can start counting our students accurately because we haven't been able to count Métis students or non-status students as Indigenous students."

Of the 39 recommendations, many have already begun or have been implemented such as the development of a territorial acknowledgement and an institutional protocol for engaging Indigenous Elders, knowledge holders and community members.

Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean is a graduate student at Concordia University. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Graduate student Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean wrote the protocol, reflecting on the experiences of Elders from her community in Kahnawake who have struggled with when invited to classrooms or to conduct the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen (thanksgiving address) at university functions.

"It was a good opportunity to plant some seeds, to give people a little bit of information about territory, protocols, culture and history — things that we think should be common sense but some people don't understand or have that awareness," said Whitebean.

Whitebean joined the leadership group when it was first launched when she was an undergraduate student.

"My son will be 18 this year and starting CEGEP, so he can end up coming to Concordia. What kind of environment do I want him to be in? That's why I ended up becoming so involved," she said.

About the Author

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.