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Montreal family funds new Indigenous Land-Based Education Program at Concordia

Six-figure gift ‘will positively contribute to the health and well-being of students’
March 10, 2022
By Ian Harrison, BComm 01, with files from Kahérakwas Donna Goodleaf

Kahérakwas Donna Goodleaf Concordia’s Kahérakwas Donna Goodleaf authored the proposal for the Indigenous Land-Based Education Program.

A gift of almost half a million dollars from Montreal’s Chamandy Foundation to the Campaign for Concordia will support a new Indigenous Land-Based Education Program at the university.

The primary objective of the 15-credit microprogram is to offer Indigenous and non-Indigenous students an Indigenous-led, land-based education platform that provides immersive survival-skill experiences. Courses that examine land and water rights, climate change, food sovereignty and other political, socio-economic concerns impacting Indigenous communities and society at large will also be included.

“This is an important program that will positively contribute to the health and well-being of students,” says Kahérakwas Donna Goodleaf, Concordia’s director of Decolonizing Curriculum and Pedagogy. “It will re-connect them to the land and deepen their understanding of self in relationship to the land, to kinships, to community and to the responsibilities that come with gaining a better understanding of addressing the impacts of climate change as future leaders in their communities.”

Concordia President Graham Carr adds: “Concordia is extremely grateful to the Chamandy family for this generous gift. It supports our commitment to advance the work of our Indigenous Directions Action Plan. It aligns with our commitment to provide experiential learning opportunities for all students, including those who have not always been fully served by the university. It supports our desire to partner meaningfully with Indigenous communities. And it puts land, water and the environment at the heart of curriculum and well-being. It’s especially powerful that a foundation based here in Tiohtià:ke, as Concordia is, has stepped forward so decisively to support this bold vision.”

Goodleaf authored the proposal for the Indigenous Land-Based Education Program that was submitted to the Chamandy Foundation.

Floriane Lemoine, a representative for the non-profit, says that “when we received it we quickly had the sense that it aligned with the mission of the foundation.”

“The Chamandy family is very passionate about nature and the environment. They have been humble, quiet philanthropists for a very long time and endeavour to stay attuned to the current needs of society, which I think this gift reflects.”

Tools to support society and address climate change

The microprogram’s launch is the result of a partnership between the Chamandy Foundation, the Kahnawake-based Ionhntionhnhékwen Wilderness Skills and Concordia’s First Peoples Studies and School of Community and Public Affairs.

“Co-constructing a program such as this, in partnership with local Indigenous communities, is one strategy of decolonizing the university system,” says Goodleaf. “It will equip future Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders with the tools to support Indigenous communities and society in general, and to undertake efforts to better address a range of interconnected environmental issues.”

Inspired by credentialled land-based programs at institutions like Red River College, Algoma University, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia and the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, Concordia — in partnership with Ionhntionhnhékwen Wilderness Skills and First Peoples Studies — piloted a land-based class last fall.

Student participants confirmed that the experience contributed positively to their health and well-being, bolstered their connections to land and cultural identity and motivated them to learn more about what land-based education has to offer.

This was tremendously encouraging, says Lemoine.

“The foundation’s hope is that there will be sufficient support for this to eventually become an accredited program to enable students with different gifts to go to university and find courses suited to their needs. We also hope that this gift inspires other donors.”

Paul Chesser, BA 94, GrDip 97, vice-president of Advancement at Concordia, says that the Chamandy Foundation is one of the most impactful private family foundations in Montreal, thanks to transformational support for health-care programs, childhood poverty relief and more.

“We are incredibly thankful and fortunate to have such an engaged and generous partner — the foundation’s commitment to the Indigenous Land-Based Education Program marks a critical milestone for next-gen teaching and learning at Concordia.”

Chesser and others also point out that Concordia’s long-standing connections to Indigenous students and communities helped pave the way for the new program.

For close to three decades, the Otsenhákta [formerly known as the Aboriginal] Student Resource Centre has been a provider of support and services for Indigenous students.

The university was also the first in Quebec to introduce a major in First Peoples Studies and the implementation of its recently updated Indigenous Directions Action Plan is currently being led by a council made up of Indigenous faculty, students and staff.

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