Thriving in the Age of Austerity: The CAUT Forum for Indigenous Faculty 2015

Written by Robyn Bourgeois, this article first appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of The Beacon.

On November 6th and 7th, 2015, the CAUT held a forum for indigenous Faculty in Winnipeg, the epicenter for urban indigeneity in contemporary Canadian society. Organized around the theme “Thriving in the Age of Austerity,” this forum provided indigenous Faculty with a rare opportunity to share and discuss their experiences in the academy, with a focus on identifying supports and barriers to success. As these discussions made clear, indigenous Faculty continue to experience significant barriers to success, including:

  • Ongoing colonial racism and sexism in their engagement with students, colleagues,
    and post-secondary institutions;
  • Chronic overextension in work load because of the high demand for indigenous
    labour (from students, colleagues, institutions, and communities) and the relatively
    low number of indigenous Faculty at many institutions to meet this demand;
  • Problematic assumptions about the rigour and validity of indigenous-centred
    courses;
  • The continued devaluation of indigenous ways of knowing and doing;
  • Problematic assumptions about the competence of indigenous academics, but also
    other indigenous knowledge keepers (including Elders).

Faculty also identified key support systems for academic success (including mentorship and the inclusion of indigenous community), and expressed hopefulness at enhanced institutional engagement brought about by the recommendations of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Indian residential schools. This being said, indigenous Faculty members expressed concern about the uptake of the TRC as a measure of successful decolonization and pressed for more critical discussions around what “indigenizing” the academy truly means – discussions that must necessarily involve not only indigenous Faculty but also the indigenous communities whose traditional territories our institutions occupy. These discussions and activities must also include all non-indigenous Faculty, who also carry the responsibility for decolonizing the academy. Here are some practical ways that non-indigenous Faculty can support the decolonization of their academic institutions:

  • Critically examine and disrupt colonial narratives within your field of study, your
    curriculum, and classroom instruction.
  • Critically engage institutional practices that replicate colonial oppression for
    indigenous Faculty and students. For example, standard weightings of professional
    commitments (teaching, research, and community service) are problematic for indigenous Faculty because of the high demand on their time for community service due to the relatively small supply of indigenous Faculty.
  • Support the use of indigenous knowledge keepers within the academy with fair
    remuneration and the same workplace protections as formal Faculty.
  • Support the hiring of more indigenous Faculty.
  • Recognize that indigenous Faculty have expertise outside of “indigenous issues.”
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