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A new Concordia seminar series aims to Indigenize the academy

Faculty are invited to collaborate with the Indigenous Curriculum and Pedagogical Advisor on decolonizing and re-framing curricular areas of study
August 20, 2018
By James Roach

Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf | Photo by Concordia University

Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf recently joined Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) as its Indigenous curriculum and pedagogical advisor. She is a citizen of the Kanien’kehá:ka nation, born and raised in the local community of Kahnawake.

In her role, Goodleaf will develop and implement university-wide training on decolonizing and Indigenizing the academy. She will work with faculty members to re-centre their curriculum in ways that promote critical discourse, analysis and integration of Indigenous histories, perspectives, philosophies and pedagogies.

To begin this process, Goodleaf has organized the Seminar Series on Decolonizing and Indigenizing the Academy, a monthly faculty training workshop that runs from August to December. Faculty should sign up for specific thematic workshops prior to attending.

In advance of the series, which begins on August 29, Goodleaf provided further insight on the importance of her work, as well as its challenges and successes.  

Why is it important for Concordia university to ‘decolonize and Indigenize’ the academy?

DG: To respond to this question, I must frame it within the broader context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report and what is happening in universities on a national level.

The TRC issued 94 calls to action to address the legacy of Canada’s genocidal policies and practices towards Indigenous peoples, specifically the history of residential schools. All levels of government, academic institutions, libraries, archives and museums, and the justice system were called upon to address and advance the notion of ‘reconciliation’ with Indigenous nations across Canada.

In response to the calls, Canadian Universities, in collaboration with Indigenous communities, issued a document titled Universities Canada Principles on Indigenous Education 2015. The report contains 13 principles that include a national call for Canadian universities to open up ‘institutional and academic spaces’ by advancing the promotion and integration of Indigenous peoples’ diverse histories, perspectives, and intellectual and scientific knowledge systems.

While Concordia has a long way to go in terms of decolonizing and Indigenizing the institution, it has also made some great strides. The Indigenous Directions Leadership Group advocates and works collectively with the university to build meaningful and trusting relationships grounded in shared understanding and mutual respect with Indigenous faculty, students and local Indigenous communities.

What are some of the ways faculty can help ensure more accurate and culturally relevant representations of Indigenous peoples’ lived experiences in the classroom?

DG: I cannot stress how important it is for faculty to become accountable and responsible to learn about the national and local histories, as well as lived experiences, of Indigenous peoples. Concordia is situated on unceded Indigenous land, so take time to learn about your students — who they are and where they come from — so you have a cultural context to ground your discussions and selection of curriculum resources.

Use culturally appropriate and accurate curriculum resources and materials written by Indigenous educators and scholars, and make the effort to learn what the appropriate protocols are regarding visitations to Indigenous communities.

Invite local elders and community knowledge keepers into your classroom to complement your curriculum resources and pay them honorariums for their travels, time and the cultural knowledge they share with the class. Do not take our elders or community knowledge holders for granted.

Finally, because forms of racism exist on campus against Indigenous students, do not tokenize them in the classroom and make them bear the responsibility to educate you and the rest of the class when discussing Indigenous issues. Make a conscious effort to learn about the diversity of Indigenous peoples’ histories, cultural heritage and issues affecting them today.

What are some of the biggest challenges of integrating Indigenous perspectives in university curriculum and pedagogy?

DG: Like many universities, Concordia has a history of perpetuating Eurocentric curriculum as the ‘normative discourse.’ Doing this excludes the diverse intellectual, scientific and cultural knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples, as well as their histories and pedagogies.

Decolonizing and Indigenizing the curriculum will not be an easy task because faculty have to move out of their comfort zones. They will need to actively engage in critical self-reflection and analysis about their role as educators, including the assumptions, perceptions and biases they bring into the classroom in relation to Indigenous peoples, students and communities.

Some faculty and departments will be resistant to this learning process because it means divesting their interest in maintaining the ‘normative discourse.’ It will call for faculty who are open to the notion of self-examination and re-framing their curriculum by integrating Indigenous perspectives, histories and worldviews in meaningful and respectful ways.

While there will be challenges, I am also very optimistic because individual faculty members and department chairs have expressed a sincere interest to collaborate with me in decolonizing and Indigenizing the academy’s curriculum. It will be a challenging and exciting learning experience for Concordia.

Are there particular success stories that you'd like to share? 

DG: The fact that I am here in this critical role is a success story in itself. Since I have started, it has been really exciting to work with a great team at the CTL and meet with faculty and departmental chairs who have expressed a sincere interest in decolonizing and Indigenizing their curriculum.

Some faculty have already made substantial changes in re-framing their approach to teaching and learning based on the conversations and collaborative meetings that we’ve had thus far.

How can faculty get in touch with you?

I can be reached at Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, located on traditional Kanien’kehá:ka Nation territory.

Register now for the new Seminar Series on Decolonizing and Indigenizing the Academy. Find out more about Concordia’s
Centre for Teaching and Learning.


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