In this month's newsletter:
- What is the Indigenous Directions Leadership Group? What is the Indigenous Directions Action Plan? An interview with IDLG Project Coordinator Charlie O'Connor, by Ossie Michelin
What is the Indigenous Directions Leadership Group? What is the Indigenous Directions Action Plan?
Interview with Charlie O'Connor, by Ossie Michelin
What is the Indigenous Directions Leadership Group (IDLG)?
The Indigenous Directions Leadership Group is something like a Task Force – The original, official mandate for the group came from the Office of the Provost in the late fall of 2016, at about the same time that Elizabeth Fast and Charmaine Lyn were appointed to be Special Advisors. This all came about in response to both a national conversation about the role of higher education in reconciliation, and more specific calls to action that were being voiced by Indigenous staff, students and faculty at Concordia. A good example of the demands being expressed at Concordia can be found in the ‘Support Indigenous Engagement at Concordia University’ petition.
Charlie O’Connor, who identifies as non-status Métis, with connections to Bourassa and St. Germain families, and the Métis Nation of Ontario, is the IDLG Project Coordinator. Speaking to what he heard about the early stages of the group, he says: “Out of those first meetings came a real sense that this wasn’t just about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or just writing another report - people wanted to see concrete changes in the short term, not just abstract reflections on what needs to change in the medium to the long term.” And so, throughout 2017, a lot of energy went into organizing professional development and cultural sensitivity trainings: IDLG members led Concordia’s Academic Cabinet on a two-day journey to Kahnawà:ke; others gave an ‘Indigenous 101’ presentation, and hosted a talking circle with the entire Dean of Students staff. Concordia’s Territorial Acknowledgment was developed by the IDLG, and launched at Spring Convocation, 2017. The IDLG was also responsible for bringing the Indigenous Directions web hub on-line.
During a full-day retreat last summer, IDLG members decided to make a shift. It was becoming very clear that the level of activity that the Special Advisors and other IDLG members were engaged in was not sustainable. Two things needed to happen. For one, they needed more staff to help with everything, and for another, they needed to off-load much of the work they were trying to do to others in the institution. It was shortly after that retreat, when we first envisioned the Action Plan.
The IDLG is currently composed of fifteen active members: Ron Abraira, Vicky Boldo, Orenda Boucher-Curotte, Chad Cowie, Brooke Wahsontiiostha Deer, Marie-Eve Drouin-Gagné, Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf, Karl Hele, Heather Igloliorte, Jason Lewis, Charmaine Lyn, Charlie O’Connor, Geneviève Sioui, Cherry Smiley, and Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean. Without getting into too much detail, it is important to note that the role of Special Advisor to the Provost no longer exists. For many reasons, Elizabeth Fast and Charmaine Lyn have both decided to step back, mostly to focus on their other full-time jobs. Right now, the group is in a kind of transition process, as the Office of the Provost works on hiring for a new position. Hopefully before the end of 2018, the new Senior Director of Indigenous Directions will be responsible for chairing the IDLG, and leading the implementation of the groups’ recommendations, as expressed in the Action Plan.
What is the Indigenous Directions Action Plan?
On one level, the Action Plan is a response to the original mandate from the Provost Office – it is a set of recommendations about changes to be made within the institution. At this level, it might be compared with reports that have been published by McGill, Simon Fraser University, U of T, and others.
In terms of what means to have a group like the IDLG preparing the Action Plan, Charlie refers to a quotation from Simon Fraser University’s ‘Walk this path with us’: Report of the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council: “‘Nothing about us without us’ – In the SFU report, they talk about how this became a recurring theme in their conversations. I think it’s a pretty simple, but very important message. Indigenous people need to be involved in all conversations and decisions about Indigenous education. I feel lucky to be part of a group that the vast majority are Indigenous people who are looking into these questions.”
The IDLG decided to take a different approach in their action plan than similar documents made by other universities aimed at improving Indigenous education. The IDLG Action Plan is two documents. One document is in the format of tables. In these tables, specific recommendations are followed by separate columns that identify who in the University will be responsible for accomplishing the actions, as well as a timeline for each action. There are also separate columns with indicators, descriptions of what it will look like when the recommendations have been successfully implemented. The Action Plan tables are complemented by a narrative piece.
In the narrative piece, the same recommendations are expressed in the voices of Indigenous People at Concordia. Charlie explains, “The way we’re doing the Action Plan - our decision to include direct quotations, and testimonies from personal interviews - we feel that was a pretty important decision and something we found missing from a lot of similar reports from other institutions.” He goes on to say, “different ways of communicating appeal to different people, it is just as important to have the voices of Indigenous people represented in their document as it is to have this rather cold, but efficient break down of tasks. I think that the combination will be really effective, and lead to positive changes at Concordia.”
Over-all, the Action Plan aims to improve education for Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners, and create a better environment for Indigenous staff, students and faculty. Other objectives are to build and maintain relationships with Indigenous communities, and create an atmosphere at Concordia that is welcoming and supportive of Indigenous cultures and worldviews.
On another level, Charlie talks about how, beyond addressing the mandate from the Provost, “the IDLG provides a base of support for individual members, and other Indigenous staff, students and faculty at Concordia – whether it’s at our monthly meetings, the occasional events we organize, or sometimes just through email – I think it helps our us feel like we’re not alone, when it comes to responding to the requests from other people in the institution, or when difficult situations that come up.” Working together on the Action Plan has provided the group with a reason to meet and talk regularly, and a place to list everyone's ideas for improving the situation at Concordia.
Echoing one of the demands from the Indigenous Engagement petition, one of the first recommendations in the Action Plan is to ‘establish a permanent Indigenous Advisory Committee (or Indigenous Education Council) that reports directly to the Provost, and that includes members of Indigenous communities.’ It is yet to be determined, what will replace the IDLG when their three-year mandate ends, in 2019.