The President of Mount Allison has announced that 2016/17 will be a year of “indigenization” at the university with an emphasis on events, speakers and themes that reflect indigenous culture, education and history.
“We’re going to direct everything we can, all our energies, all our activities to developing indigenous education on this campus, develop awareness of indigenous culture and embed an indigenous reality into this university,” Robert Campbell promised during his opening remarks at a two-day conference attended by students, prominent academics and members of indigenous communities.
Doreen Richard, the university’s indigenous affairs co-oridinator greeted the announcement with a loud “Yay!” as the room filled with applause.
Later, she said the announcement represents a turning point because so far, the university has not gone down the path of indigenization at all.
“We’ve had some professors trying to teach bits and pieces of a course, so I think by making that statement this morning, it just sends a message out to rest of the campus and faculty and staff that we need to get on board with this. It’s been too long,” she said.
Mt. A. slow to respond
Robert Campbell acknowledged during an interview that Mount Allison has been slow to respond to local indigenous communities in the way other universities have including Wilfrid Laurier and Trent in Ontario or St. Thomas and Cape Breton University in the Maritimes.
“To be absolutely honest, there’s not a great historical tradition at Mount Allison,” he told Warktimes.
“It’s one of these things where we more or less said St. Thomas was doing a good job and we encouraged the government and others to invest in St. Thomas’s programs…same thing at CBU, fantastic work being done there.”
Campbell added that Mount Allison has specialized in other things such as disability studies, but that now, since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, all universities are obligated to do more.
“It just struck me for our university, the time is right now to make this a central part of our existence,” he said.
Campbell suggested during his remarks to the conference that Mt. A. is looking at making space available to its aboriginal students, a move that indigenous affairs co-ordinator Doreen Richard heartily welcomes.
She said it would be “a place where they can call home, a place where they feel comfortable, where they don’t face racism because they speak their language…and feel that they’re part of this campus because they don’t feel that.”
Meantime, Tuma Young, an indigenous studies professor at Cape Breton University, told the conference he’s hoping the current emphasis on indigenization is not just another in a long line of passing fads that were to supposed to help aboriginal people, but didn’t.
“I hope not and it will be up to us to make sure that it doesn’t,” he said.
“We’re going to have to follow through.”