Truth and Reconciliation: U of R's 2020-2025 Strategic Plan Series, Part 3 of 6

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: August 25, 2020 5:00 a.m.

"We are committed to Truth and Reconciliation. We aspire to walk together in a good way and strengthen our relationships which are based on mutual respect and accountability. Ongoing and emerging activities will be accountable to future generations." U of R 2020-2025 Strategic Plan Photo: U of R Photography

The University of Regina's commitment to Truth and Reconciliation is the second of five interconnected Areas of Focus in its newly released 2020-2025 Strategic Plan.

The name of the Strategic Plan, kahkiyaw kiwâhkomâkâninawak -- Cree for All Our Relations, was envisioned by Elder Dennis Omeasoo, Life Speaker with the U of R's Office of Indigenization. As an overarching guide for the University, kahkiyaw kiwâhkomâkâninawak visualizes a future where people put aside their differences to focus on their similarities - a key concept in working towards Reconciliation.

"During the time of creation, no one was better than the other and no one was worse off than other. Then as now, all are equal. We are all related. kahkiyaw kiwâhkomâkâninawak," said Omeasoo at the virtual launch of the Strategic Plan on June 18.

As the new Plan was being developed, an overarching goal was created for the University to take significant action towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action. Released in 2015, the Calls act as a guide to redress the legacy of the Residential School system and advance the process of Reconciliation.

For the University to learn from its connection to the nation's colonial past, its challenging present, and to work together towards a healthier future, it is essential that the University community deepen its understanding of and commitment to the responsibilities attached to being Treaty people.  

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kahkiyaw kiwâhkomâkâninawak -- Cree for All Our Relations, the University of Regina's
2020-2025 Strategic Plan, was released at a virtual launch on June 18, 2020. Credit: U of R

As a step, taking action on the Calls was identified as a priority within the Strategic Plan. Referencing the U of R's Reconciliation Action Committee's recommended 14 Calls to Action relevant to the University of Regina and after a rigorous consultation period, the Facilitation Team identified three objectives to guide the University towards Reconciliation. The objectives are:

  1. Improve support for Indigenous students, faculty, and staff;
  2. Provide educational experiences and opportunities across Saskatchewan; and,
  3. Incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into teaching and research.

The University's 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, peyak aski kikiwinaw, began the process of actively improving the understanding of Canada's shared colonial heritage - and how the U of R could play a role in moving towards Reconciliation. This included an increase in the number of resources offered for Indigenous students, additions of Indigenous-focused courses in each degree program, unconscious bias and respectful workplace training, and creating opportunities for University and extended community members to engage with Indigenous cultures.

Although many steps towards Reconciliation and improving relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the University community have already been taken, the process will be ongoing challenging, and requires unwavering commitment.

Reconciliation is about atonement. It's about making amends. It's about apology. It's about recognizing responsibility. It's about accounting for what has gone on. But ultimately, it's about commitment to maintaining that mutually respectful relationship throughout, recognizing that, even when you establish it, there will be challenges to it.

                   Senator Murray Sinclair
February 8, 2017

In a very real sense, the U of R's 2020-2025 strategic plan breathes new life into the University's 2018 A Statement of Commitment in Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.  

Dr. Emily Grafton, Indigenous Research Lead, commented that although many members of the University community have been working diligently to help identify how to best implement the Calls, there is still significant work to be done and that the Statement of Commitment and Guide describes important steps for non-Indigenous people to take part in Reconciliation.

Cathy Rocke, Dean, Faculty of Social Work, whose research focuses on addressing and evaluating how to reconcile the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, noted that the U of R has done a great work in beginning the Truth and Reconciliation process, but that there is still much progress to be made.

Rocke echoed the words of Senator Murray Sinclair, Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee when she shared, "'Getting to the truth was hard. Getting to Reconciliation will be harder. It's important to remember that it took us 150 years to get to this point in our relationship...from Federation to now, seven generations of people have gone through the Residential School system.'"

Rocke underscored the Commissioners' warning at the final event of the TRC in 2015 - that we need to be not only patient, but also tolerant as we stumble to try to find our way.

"Our University community has been learning about our colonial history and are starting to understand the legacy of the Residential School system," said Rocke. "This is where the hard work begins. What new initiatives should the U of R undertake? Where can this work fit in with what we have already done? The University is in a great position to move forward with Reconciliation."

Over the past decade, the University has witnessed a significant shift in the demographics of its students. Part of this shift has included the steady growth of students self-declaring as Indigenous - now making up 13.3% of the U of R's student population. Institutional changes at the University-while still ongoing-have made the campus more attractive to Indigenous students. This includes initiatives such as the ta-tawâw Student Centre, nitôncipâmin omâ Student Success Program (The OMA Program), Indigenous Social Work and Education programs, the Indigenous Advisory Circle and its Indigenization Fund, the search for an Associate Vice-President (Indigenous Engagement), amongst others.

While celebrating the success of Indigenous students, it's critical to consider that by the year 2030, Statistics Canada estimates that more than 25% of Saskatchewan's population will be Indigenous. This diversity of people and perspectives is not only good for the University, but also provides significant benefit for the entire province. Through actively working with Indigenous communities and increasing participation of Indigenous people in business will contribute to a dynamic, highly skilled, and resourceful workforce that will have significant economic benefit for Saskatchewan.

With the University taking concrete steps for change, such as hiring more Indigenous faculty and staff, and offering greater student supports, a more representative workforce will help to create a more inclusive environment for a growing Indigenous population and offers non-Indigenous people more opportunity to expand their cultural knowledge.

"The Canadian education system has historically been exclusionary to Indigenous people - this is why Reconciliation is needed today," said Tomika Pinay, a third-year Environmental Systems Engineering student. "Having Indigenous Elders and staff available to provide positive examples of Indigenous people and culture - away from stereotypes - helps to foster a welcoming environment for Indigenous students in which they can reclaim and relearn their culture."

This sentiment was echoed by Natalie Owl, a Doctoral Candidate in the Faculty of Education, who believes that increasing supports for Indigenous members of the U of R community also has a positive impact on non-Indigenous faculty, staff, and students and will improve relations between all members of the University.

"It creates a space where all students learn that Indigenous inclusion in academia comes in many forms and that it is the new normal needed for a cohesive Canadian/First Nation society," said Owl. "All U of R students have opportunities to learn from Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and use these insights to create respectful personal, academic, and professional relationships."

Rocke also emphasized the importance of building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, saying that they are key to moving forward together, in a good way. This path aligns with the goals of the University that include creating new partnerships and increasing academic collaboration - creating environments where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are actively learning together and from one another.

"We need to build these relationships so we can really get to know each other as human beings. Then we can start to have the hard conversations," said Rocke. "Otherwise, people on both sides can be defensive - get angry."

To foster these relationships, Indigenous ways of knowing will need to be a driver of research and curriculum design. This concept is often challenging, particularly for non-Indigenous academics and instructors. Under the new Strategic Plan, resources will be made available to help these groups to better understand Indigenous ways of knowing and how to integrate them into their work.

"By incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing, the University is expanding its knowledge base, and increasing its status as an institution of higher learning, while building key partnerships and helping to meet the needs of its community members," said Owl.

Accessibility - not only in terms of geography, internet infrastructure, and technology, but also due to the exclusion of histories, ways of knowing, languages, and cultures - has historically been a barrier to many Indigenous people pursuing a post-secondary education. A number of members of the province's growing Indigenous population have indicated that they want to pursue their education at the U of R, while remaining in their home community with access to their Elders, knowledge keepers, and traditions. Partnerships with different Tribal Councils are already in the works, planning for new programs is underway, and rapid advances in the quality of distance education have brought us closer than ever to being able to offer programming to all students - wherever they are.

"The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we are realizing that distance learning is not only doable, but can be very beneficial," said Rocke. "If the communities have the infrastructure, we can expand our reach outside of our U of R campuses to communities throughout Saskatchewan and beyond."

The University's new Strategic Plan offers the blueprint for how education, inclusion, and collaboration can create meaningful impact towards - the goals shared by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - establishing relationships, repairing conflicts, restoring harmony, and making peace.

"Reconciliation is essential to the success of achieving the University's Strategic Plan title -kahkiyaw kiwâhkômâkaninawak," said Grafton.

The University has a key role to play in Reconciliation, helping All Our Relations move into the future as one.

This article is the third in a six-part series on the University of Regina's 2020-2025 Strategic Plan kahkiyaw kiwâhkomâkâninawak -- All Our Relations. In the next article, we'll look at Area 3 of the 5 Areas of Focus: Well-being & Belonging.


Discovery: U of R's 2020-2025 Strategic Plan Series, Part 2 of 6
U of R's 2020-2025 Strategic Plan Series Part 1: Vision, Mission & Values
5 by 25: U of R 2020-2025 Strategic Plan sets interconnected, achievable goals

The University of Regina's Statement of Commitment in Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action