Concordia launches a plan to decolonize and Indigenize its curriculum and pedagogy
When Concordia released its Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019, the university made a commitment to recognize and integrate Indigenous ways of knowing in its curriculum and pedagogy.
As outlined in recommended action 2.1, the aim is to develop a university-wide plan that seeks to introduce Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum, as well as offer training to help faculty teach Indigenous subjects and facilitate respectful classroom discussions.
Concordia has now taken a critical step forward in that commitment with the launch of a five-year plan to decolonize and Indigenize the university’s curriculum and pedagogy.
“This strategic plan provides a series of concrete actions that will change the ways in which we teach at Concordia,” says Anne Whitelaw, provost and vice-president, academic.
“The launch reaffirms our responsibility to carry on with this work and makes us accountable for what comes next. The plan challenges us — as educators — to go beyond our comfort zones and reconceptualize our curriculum in respectful and meaningful ways.”
Ethical principles + strategic priorities
Announced at a launch event at 4TH SPACE, the plan draws upon the principles embodied in the Two Row Wampum Belt, or Tekani Teiotha’tá:tie Kaswéntah’, an ethical framework for how colonial-settler governments are to conduct themselves while living in the lands of the Rotinonhsión:ni — more commonly known as the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy.
For Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf, director of decolonizing curriculum and pedagogy in the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, impressing the principles of the Two Row Wampum Belt into the strategic plan creates a path where everyone is equal and no worldview is superior.
“How do we come together to co-construct a new path of learning? It calls for faculty to actively engage in evaluating their curriculum and pedagogical practices by challenging and decentering Eurocentric canons of thought in their curriculum. It calls upon faculty to embrace opportunities to work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and communities in ways that value Indigenous epistemologies, histories and ways of doing in respectful and meaningful ways,” explains Goodleaf.
“It’s about supporting faculty with the knowledge and the tools to create curriculum in which all students value the importance of learning about diverse histories, voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples,” she says.
“And in doing this work, it also calls upon faculty to develop a critical consciousness, divest from their privileged place and question their positionality and power which informs curriculum design and pedagogical practices.”
The plan outlines four strategic priorities to examine and challenge Eurocentric ways of thinking by recentering Indigenous voices, histories and ways of doing across departmental curriculum.
- cultivating a collective understanding among faculty on what Indigenous decolonization and Indigenization means in relation to decolonizing curriculum and pedagogy
- providing faculty training and support that focuses on Indigenous practices and intervention strategies to address ongoing systemic racism, tokenism and microaggressions in the classroom
- developing and co-designing new programs in collaboration with Indigenous communities
- expanding and supporting collaborative, shared learning communities across faculty units
“This five-year strategic plan will put Concordia on the map. We’re telling the world this is what we’re doing, and this is how we’re doing it. It’s an exciting opportunity,” Goodleaf says.
Manon Tremblay, senior director of Indigenous Directions at Concordia, points out that what excites her most about the launch is that Concordia is continuing to move forward in acknowledging the presence of Indigenous people on its campuses.
Still, she is mindful that implementing the plan won’t come without its own set of challenges.
“We have to admit that throughout postsecondary institutions in Canada, there is a bit of pushback when it comes to decolonization. We do have people who are resisting change,” Tremblay says.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of decolonization. It’s not about changing everything you’ve always known and everything you’ve always done. It’s about adding value and examining whether how we’ve done things is still the right way.”
Sandra Gabriele, Concordia’s vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning, agrees. She hopes that by 2028, the plan will have helped build greater awareness around this work.
“To truly decolonize demands a willingness from all of our community members to think about how systems have been in place for centuries to support a particular worldview, and how those injustices and that discrimination became embedded in the ways we think and work,” Gabriele explains.
She also emphasizes that through the Future of Teaching and Learning initiative, Concordia is taking a unified approach to working through these complex issues.
“We obviously want to address the content of our programs, but also the ways in which we think about our teaching. There’s a lot about how we approach teaching that is not very well aligned with many Indigenous cultures and ways of being,” Gabriele notes.
“As we were building out our teaching and learning strategy, we made reference within it to this strategic plan. Both initiatives are very much committed to each other.”
Learn more about the Indigenous Decolonization Hub.