Dalhousie faculty and administrators are now reviewing feedback from two Indigenous experts who visited the university this spring, says Keith Taylor, co-chair of the university’s Indigenous strategy steering committee.
Marie Battiste, a well-known Mi’kmaq scholar originally from Potlotek First Nation, and Michael DeGagné, president of Nipissing University and the past director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, were invited by the committee to examine Dalhousie’s Indigenous initiatives and make recommendations.
Taylor, a professor of mathematics at Dalhousie, says he and other members of the committee will analyze the report Battiste and DeGagné wrote after holding meetings on campus and talking with Indigenous students.
“Probably much more valuable than the actual document that was produced was the dynamic discussion while they were here,” said Taylor. “Our thinking and our wisdom matured a lot, just interacting with them.”
Dalhousie’s Board of Governors and senate approved the Indigenous strategy steering committee to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action that relate to post-secondary education.
Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, a professor of native studies at Dalhousie’s college of continuing education, co-chairs the committee with Taylor. She wants to include as many Indigenous people as possible in the process in order to develop a living document that acts as a foundation for long-term change.
“I don’t want to see a report that we write from the Indigenous steering committee and have people go ‘Oh, that’s great’ and then put the report on a shelf somewhere,” she said.
Taylor said that the committee plans to visit Indigenous communities across Nova Scotia to hear recommendations firsthand.
“For example, down in Sydney we might bring together a dozen of the education leaders and principal elders to talk to them. Dalhousie hasn’t done that very often and they will have, certainly, ideas that haven’t come to us,” he said.
Doyle-Bedwell, the only Mi’kmaq woman to earn tenure at Dalhousie, says Indigenous peoples on campus and across the province must feel a sense of ownership in the new strategy.
“We need to be, as Indigenous people, involved in anything that is being developed for our communities. There are a lot of issues that are out there. I think, as we get more involved in it, we will get to see what a serious undertaking it is. And one of the things I look at is, in 20 years, what will Dalhousie look like?”
Dalhousie’s Indigenous student adviser, Michele Graveline, agreed. She says that the university has the ability to improve its support of Indigenous students and Indigenous communities.
“I do see lots of positives on campus, I really do. But it takes time and there are some battle wounds. Not everybody walks without pebbles in their shoes,” said Graveline.
The committee hopes to have a draft of its comprehensive strategy document compiled by the end of next year.