University of Calgary

Kindling Conversations

Submitted by alumni on Tue, 11/01/2016 - 22:06.

Kindling Conversations

Recent studies suggest that more than $170 billion could be added to Canada’s economy if Indigenous peoples were as educated as other Canadians. Find out more about UCalgary’s upcoming Indigenous Strategy.
By Deb Cummings

This depiction includes some items from six Indigenous faculty, including a Jacqueline Ottmann’s blue & red beaded hair ties; moccasins once worn by Phyllis Steeves’ grandfather; and, Greg Lowan-Trudeau’s birch bark makuk holds his beaded star.

Long before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report revealed the shameful educational gap between First Nations, Métis, Inuit people and other Canadians, UCalgary was addressing the issue.

In a series of task forces, symposiums, research projects and community partnerships dating back more than a decade, the university has made decolonization and the Indigenization of education a priority — so much so, an official campus-wide Indigenous strategy will be unveiled and launched next June.

In many ways, the TRC’s calls to action mirror what’s already underway across the campus community — such as the new graduate-level Indigenous reconciliation, research and methodologies courses, the Indigenous Peoples course for students of social work, the Tsuu T’ina language and culture course, the work that the Native Centre does and the increase of Indigenous professors (10 in the Werklund School of Education, alone).

Associate professor and Director of Indigenous Education Initiatives Jacqueline Ottmann says all students can benefit from Indigenous knowledge in an intellectual environment. Spending a semester learning about Indigenous issues would pay great dividends to anyone working in business, social work, education and law, as well as numerous other sectors, adds Ottmann.

As more universities across Canada are recognizing the importance of Indigenous education, Ottmann says, “UCalgary is well-positioned to be a leader that embraces Indigenous ways of knowing and being.”

Recent studies, including a report from the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards, suggest that more than $170 billion could be added to Canada’s economy by 2026 if Indigenous peoples achieved the same education levels as other Canadians.

The statistics speak for themselves. The latest data shows that more than 40 per cent of Indigenous Canadians did not earn a high-school diploma. And, while 33 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population had a university degree, the number for Aboriginal Canadians was 12 per cent.

Aiming to improve these dire conditions, the Werklund School of Education formed a task force in 2013 to address this education gap. Some of its recommendations will be reflected in the new Indigenous Strategy:

  • Engage in conversations about Indigenous aims, issues and contexts in relation to the Werklund School of Education.
  • Ensure that traditional knowledge and stories are shared.
  • Examine how research methods and educational theories are being taught and practised.
  • Evaluate courses to ensure each is designed to include Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.
  • Establish partnerships with Indigenous communities.
  • Collaborate with various Indigenous initiatives across campus to ensure that initiatives are specialized, sustained and systemic.

“The best way to atone for the painful legacy of residential schools is to get Indigenous education right,” stresses Ottmann. Do that, and all Canadians will benefit in the economic and cultural rewards. U


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