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January Newsletter: Indigenizing Governance within the University

January 15, 2019
By Indigenous Directions

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

We hope you're well-rested and ready to get back into the swing of things! In December's issue, we mentioned that we're switching up the format of the newsletter for the next six months to introduce the six mandates of the much-anticipated Indigenous Directions Action Plan. Our hope is to inform and inspire the broader Concordia community to not only think critically and generously about how they might contribute to making the University a more welcoming and generative space for Indigenous peoples, knowledges, and practices but more importantly to catalyze the action needed to make this a reality.

January Spotlight: Indigenizing Governance within the University

In this month's newsletter, we're putting a spotlight on Indigenous governance within the University. What might Indigenous governance look like, and how might we employ it within the University? Our new Senior Director of Indigenous Directions, William Lindsay, explores these questions and more below. 

Challenging and Transforming the Ivory Tower through Effective Indigenous Leadership: A Few Introductory Thoughts

By William G. Lindsay (Cree), Senior Director, Indigenous Directions, Concordia University

I have had the privilege of working for three large research universities: UBC, SFU, and now, Concordia U. In my Indigenous-related experience, universities have ingrained conventions and attitudes that are not truly revealed until attempts are made to change them (Ahmed, 2012). If challenged, the academy or parts of it will often prove resistant, apathetic, or even hostile when ‘Indigeneity’ is introduced (Alfred, 2004; Turner, 2006; Kuokkanen, 2007). Yes, it may indeed prove unsettling to staff and faculty with entrenched attitudes when ‘foreign’ Indigenous epistemologies and practices are introduced into tradition-rich universities (Kidwell, 2005; Kuokkanen, 2007). The university has thus been labelled ‘contentious ground’ from the point of view of Indigenous ‘warriors’ who are charged with challenging the status quo (Ottman, 2013; Minthorn & Chávez, 2015; Alfred, 2004). This calls to mind the MLK quote above regarding “sacrifice, suffering, and struggle” (Legend, 2016). In my own experience, these moments of contention and confrontation do occur but they don’t last forever. Success blunts the challenges to one’s Indigenous work identity. But a warrior spirit needs to constantly be maintained when dealing with a succession of difficult issues, on multiple fronts.

But diplomacy is required as well. Indigenous leaders face an enormous challenge as they learn to walk skillfully ‘in two worlds’. On one hand, they serve institutional masters and must know the policies, rules, and expectations of the dominant institutional culture. On the other, they are aware of the issues and demands that are particular to Indigenous peoples, whom they represent and serve (Wesley-Esquimaux & Calliou, 2010; Kuokkanen, 2007). Because these leaders ‘straddle two worlds’ they end up carrying the responsibility for two groups — the Indigenous world they come from and the world of the academy that they now work in (Ottman, 2013). Balance and skill is certainly needed for such a challenging job...

Further Reading


  • Last November, the University of Victoria hosted the fourth annual Building Reconciliation Forum where Indigenous leaders from communities, government, and universities across the country gathered to continue the conversation on and share lessons learned in responding to the TRC's Calls to Action. '...Jean-Paul Restoule, an Anishinaabe scholar and chair of Indigenous education at UVic, challenged universities to “let Indigenous communities lead.”​'


  • Indigenous Directions new Senior Director, William Lindsay, attended the Building Reconciliation Forum on behalf of Concordia back in November. He generously wrote up a brief summary of the event and provides some insight into the conversations that were had in each of the discussion panels. What would you add to the conversation?


  • Yukon College is transitioning to Yukon University. In doing so, they brought together 30 members from different Yukon First Nations and post-secondary institutions at a one-day workshop where participants discussed Indigenizing university governance. The three main questions that sparked conversation that day were: "Why does Indigenization of university governance matter? How will Indigenization of university governance be achieved? And what will it look like?"

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