The Aboriginal Reconciliation Council (ARC) at Simon Fraser University has unveiled its final calls to action which will guide the university in allocating its $9 million reconciliation fund over the next three years. The report calls on the university to expand the spaces on campus that welcome Indigenous peoples, indigenize course curricula, and provide more support to Indigenous students.
“We don’t pretend in the report to have all the answers, but we sure do think that this idea of walking together toward a preferred future will create really substantial differences in this university,” said Kris Magnusson, council co-chair and dean of the faculty of education.
“Ideally, we would see fundamental changes to the ways in which Indigenous people actually thrive on campus.”
A Kwis Ns7eyx̱ (witness) ceremony with attendees from local First Nations will mark the formal handing over of the report to the university on October 16.
Among the calls to action contained in the report is the creation of more dedicated cultural spaces on campus, which includes establishing a new cultural resource centre, including Aboriginal language signage, implementing cultural awareness training, and removing offensive colonial artworks from campus.
The report also calls for an Indigenous curriculum review committee to oversee the indigenization of courses as well as a scholarship program to support Indigenous students.
Magnusson said the university will now need to address visible issues to show the community it is making the calls to action a priority and the commitment should also be reflected in the plans set out by the major administrative offices.
The council consulted with members of the campus and local communities on eight occasions over the past year in order to establish priorities for reconciliation. The consultations included meetings with the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations in addition to the Métis Nation of BC.
“I think as much as anything the process that led to the report may have more impact,” Magnusson said. “The topics were framed differently and with more of a sense of urgency and respect at the same time, so I think that process itself has created a different atmosphere at the university.”
The council, co-chaired by Magnusson and Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis, a counsellor for the Squamish nation and member of the SFU Board of Governors, also went to the community for input on drafts of the report.
The feedback that was received pointed to some omissions, such as the need to emphasise repatriation of artifacts and remains currently in the possession of SFU to Indigenous communities, said Magnusson.
“I would characterize the feedback as being very supportive of the directions and wanting to find some way to ensure that the calls to actions would actually be acted upon,” he added. “More than just feedback, I think it was an expression of concern.”
However, it will be up to the university to decide how it will spend the $9 million in funding that was set aside for reconciliation efforts in 2016.
“We have very little direct control over how the report gets received,” Magnusson explained, adding that what the report did do was make the findings into calls to action, rather than simply calling them recommendations, and the upcoming witnessing ceremony will act as a form of accountability.
“No one can say that this can lay hidden now, it is a very public ceremony, [and] witnesses from the communities that took part will be there,” Magnusson said. “It may seem symbolic, but it is a powerful tradition.”
He added that the university should continue these open forum consultations between the school and the wider Indigenous community about progress towards reconciliation.
“As I am looking at this, there is a sense of pride in the communities that have come together [and] how this might make a difference for our university and for our communities,” Magnusson concluded.