Community involvement a requirement for Indigenizing academia

Mark Solomon leads the Indigenization efforts at Seneca College in Toronto. He sees a few challenges but also some successes in academia's efforts to catch up with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action around education. But even saying the word "Indigenization" makes Solomon uncomfortable.
Mark Solomon is the director of student life at Seneca College in Toronto. He is a member of Henvey Inlet first Nation in Ontario. (Mark Solomon)
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Originally published February 25, 2018.

Mark Solomon leads the Indigenization efforts at Seneca College in Toronto. He sees a few challenges but also some successes in academia's efforts to catch up with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action around education. But even saying the word "Indigenization" makes Solomon uncomfortable.

"I feel like it really implies a pan-Indianism," he said. "We have post-secondary institutions all across Canada that should really be serving the communities that they're based in."

Solomon wants to see Indigenization plans created with community involvement and tailored to the specific Indigenous communities closest to each institution.

"In Ontario, we have Indigenous education councils that have been set up virtually in every institution that strongly encourage both urban community agencies and First Nations to be active and be involved as part of a governance structure to determine how an institution offers programs and provides services for those students," he said.

Solomon also cautioned universities and colleges to slow down and make sure efforts are beneficial for all sides — to the institution, Indigenous faculty and students and the communities they're involved with. He said the current hiring frenzy is creating an "Aboriginal brain drain". Solomon explained that's where the best and brightest are being scooped up by institutions and not working in their own communities.

"I actually believe that communities are suffering. I say that because we're almost sucking everything out of them. When an institution wants something, they can grab it and that's because they have big payrolls and big research grants. So they can really drain both humans resources and a whole bunch of other things," he said.

But Solomon does see some positive changes, as well. He said capital and resource expenditures have never been better, new spaces are being created on campuses and more Indigenous faces are making post-secondary institutions a more friendly and welcoming place for Indigenous students.

"I really hope that Indigenous people come to post-secondary and have great experiences when they're there. It was one of the best times of my life and that's why I got a job at one," he said.