Written by: Harvin Bhathal, Features Editor
Dr. Amie Wolf is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) teaching two sections of a required course in the teacher education program, EDUC 440 Indigenous Education in Canada. In a recent controversy, Dr. Wolf, an SFU alumni and a member of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, made public an allegation that UBC erased interim reports of 12 teacher candidates who were transferred out of her class last fall. In a press release published January 20, soon after the controversy, Dr. Wolf wrote a detailed account of the events from her perspective.
In the release, she stated that she had “observed that the participants were not ready to teach Indigenous subject matter, citing their unwillingness to critically examine their own biases, attitudes, beliefs, and values to facilitate change, as stipulated in the BC Teacher’s Council, Professional Standards for BC Educators.”
The students were transferred out of the class because they had complaints about Dr. Wolf that they took to the course supervisor for EDUC 440, Dr. Shannon Leddy. On the reddit post regarding this issue, users have alleged that she “wanted to use her power as a UBC instructor to wield political power, shaping the education system according to her own whims” and that “she told her current students that students with conservative political views would fail her course.” The Peak could not get in touch with any of her former students.
In an interview with The Peak on January 20, Dr. Wolf said that she was not told about these complaints until she went to Dr. Leddy in November of 2020 to discuss what was transpiring in her class. According to Dr. Wolf, after tensions in the class got worse and worse, the director of the Teacher Education Office, John Yamamoto, said, “Let’s just cut bait[,] [. . .] let’s just put them in another Indigenous education course and they can just finish the term.”
Dr. Wolf was then tasked by Yamamoto to write interim reports on the students. According to Matthew Ramsey, Director of University Affairs at UBC Media Relations, “[i]nterim reports are used for a variety of reasons, such as when student[s] move from one section to another, or when instructors have specific concerns pertaining to students enrolled in a pass/fail course. When these matters are addressed and the student has passed the course, the report is considered fulfilled and no longer applicable or part of the student’s file.” Additionally, the policies and guidelines of the teacher education program state that “copies of interim reports will be filed in the Teacher Education office.”
She said that Dr. Leddy, Yamamoto, and herself “all agreed what the report was, and all three of us signed it,” a claim that the university did not comment on. She told The Peak that she agreed to pass the students on the condition “that they continue to try to learn how to teach Indigenous education respectfully because [they’re] not there yet.”
According to Dr. Wolf’s first press release, she was instructed by Dr. Marianne McTavish, the Associate Dean of the UBC department of educational studies, to delete the interim reports she had written for 12 teacher candidates from her course EDUC 440 — reports signed off by Yamamoto and Dr. Leddy.
“The fact that they signed-off on my documentation of the students’ push back was meant to make me feel that I had been supported,” said Dr. Wolf. “The intention was to let me slide into quiet oblivion so that I would not resist, thereby helping them solve the Indian problem as conveniently as possible.”
She was told that this decision stemmed from a letter from an anonymous parent of one of the teacher candidates “expressing concern that the interim reports could negatively impact their adult-child’s employment opportunities.”
The university did not confirm nor deny the existence of the letter.
On January 15, she made it clear that she would not delete the assessments. Five days later on January 20, she took this issue public with her first press release.
In a second press release dated January 24, Dr. Wolf stated that she received an email from the dean of UBC’s department of educational studies, Dr. Frank Blye. According to Dr. Wolf, the email noted that as a part of the Privacy Act included in her contract with UBC, she was “not entitled to speak about identifiable individuals with third parties or the press” and that doing so would expose the university and herself to liability under privacy legislation. In the second press release, Dr. Wolf stated, “[Blye] is pretty much telling me to shut up or I’ll be sued. It’s a threat.”
In 2016, Dr. Wolf was employed by the UBC Sauder School of Business and her first press release alleges her contract was terminated after she stated to the CBC that “a course requirement on First Nations rights and title is needed, campus-wide.”
“I know that speaking out will probably cost me again,” she expressed.
On January 25, Dr. Wolf was placed on administrative leave by Dr. Blye, meaning the remainder of her contract will be paid out but she will have no teaching duties.
Lynnne Tomlinson, Assistant Dean, pro tem, of Professional Development and Community Engagement in the faculty of education, a non-Indigenous person, has now taken over instruction of EDUC 440.
Dr. Wolf calls for the resignation or dismissal of Dr. Leddy, Yamamoto, and Dr. Blye (among others), citing the hire of non-Indigenous person to teach her Indigenous Education course, “citing corruption and incompetence.”
She added, “I did not have the chance to say good-bye to my classes nor was a reason for my disappearance provided to them. My students told me the class without me didn’t pick up from where we left off. I feel terrible for how this situation has impacted them, and I am helpless to make things different. This is everything that should not happen in Indigenous education, which emphasizes relationships of trust and healthy community engagement that is safe for everyone.”
The nature of the concerns outlined by Dr. Wolf against the teacher candidates included participation, communication, classroom climate, and intolerance. She confirmed that all 12 interim reports were identical, highlighting the same concerns for the 12 students as they had formed a “clique [that] was behaving in ways that created an intimidating classroom environment, [. . . ] compromising [her] instruction and the culture of the classroom in general.”
Regarding communication, the students “demonstrated an unwillingness to communicate openly with [her] and with their peers.” Dr. Wolf stated she made attempts to communicate with them, sharing her cell phone number and encouraging students to contact her. “The choices to avoid speaking with me in good faith, with an intention to resolve issues amicably, appears to be reactive and short-sighted behaviour unbecoming of a teacher candidate.”
The interim reports for the students stated, “At best, choosing to leave [the] class, rather than making an effort to understand what [she is] actually teaching and why, reveals an intolerance for ‘otherness.’ At worst, it points to the possibility of unconscious and unacceptable biases, the reinforcement of white supremacy, and/or Indigenous specific racism and misogyny. This intolerance shows a lack of compassion and thoughtfulness that will not serve Indigenous students in a classroom setting.”
On the reddit post regarding this issue, the comments were riddled with questions of her inclusion of the term white supremacy in the interim reports.
“I talked about the reinforcement of white supremacy,” Dr. Wolf said, placing emphasis on reinforcement. “I was never calling anybody a white supremacist [ . . . ] Our colonial institutions are all white supremacist institutions [ . . . ],” expressed Dr. Wolf.
She did add however that, “I did see white supremacy in spades in their participation and assignments. This is just the biased belief that Euro-centric culture is more true/real [sic] than Indigenous culture. It is a widespread and common attitude in Canada.”
She cited one comment from a student to a class discussion board question, “What are the realities for Indigenous students in the public education system today?”. The student allegedly commented, “How should I know, I’m white?”
“I was one hundred per cent right in my assessments of these students,” stated Dr. Wolf. These are not the kind of people who are going to support the success of Indigenous students in a classroom setting.”
To understand Dr. Wolf’s comments about the reinforcement of white supremacy, they must be situated in the broader meaning of what white supremacy really is. According to Frances Lee Ansley, a critical-race-theory scholar, “By ‘white supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”
“I don’t think that Indigenous pedagogical approaches to education [in a university context] have ever existed. Indigenous cosmology, [ . . . ] the way that our families are, [our] governance, economics, spirituality, relationships, [and our] teaching [ . . . ] [I don’t think] could ever be integrated into a Western mainstream education system,” expressed Dr. Wolf.
If it were to be integrated, however, she mentioned three levels to adapting Western frameworks of education to be more inclusive to Indigenous peoples: system restructuring, the integration of soft content, and the integration of hard content.
“[System restructuring], which is the integration of restrictions, [means] that the Federal government will finally do what it is obligated to do under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [UNDRIP] [ . . . ] [and ensure] we have the money to have and run our own schools that are taught in our languages, emphasize our histories and the holidays that are important to us, [helping] us with our goals of self-determination and self-governance,” stated Dr. Wolf. She also mentioned how Indigenous educators should be given “opulent salaries[,] [ . . . ] benefit packages, and [the] status of being teachers.”
Regarding the integration of soft content and hard content, she explained that soft content includes “cultural inclusion, [ . . . ] food, dances, [and] traditions,” while hard content includes, “studying legislation like [UNDRIP] that translates into policies and procedures for restructuring a nation to nation relationship between Indigenous peoples and the state.”
“[Soft] content keeps us in a position of assimilation, [hard content] is about empowerment, self-determination, resource flows, land use, and sovereignty.”
In an email to her students about this conflict, she stated that, “What has happened to me directly relates to the course learning outcomes [and] exactly [ . . . ] where we’re at in the course, which is [the] theme [that] indigenous peoples have distinct ways of seeing and doing things that don’t fit into the institutions of Canada. And one of the sub questions under that is, what are the current educational frameworks in Canada? And how [do] those barriers [ . . . ] make it difficult [for the Indigenous teaching of Indigenous knowledge]? This case is a direct example.”
In her second press release, Dr. Wolf expressed, “The push back I am receiving from the highest levels of the UBC administration is indicative of a problem at all levels of education in the Province of BC. Incompetent administrators are giving lip service to promoting Indigenous [e]ducation while suppressing our voices. They get away with it because there is no accountability and because Indigenous people are usually disempowered, scared, and lacking in supports for recourse. Future classroom teachers will be dealing with this problem as they try to teach Indigenous [e]ducation. I want to prepare them for the real world.”
According to Dr. Wolf, she is no longer residing at her home address because “she and her chosen family fear for her safety.”
System Change at UBC
By talking to The Peak and other news media outlets about this story, Dr. Wolf is hoping that “systemic change will be spurred to actualize at UBC.”
In the 2020 UBC Indigenous Strategic plan, UBC President Dr. Santa Ono, wrote that UBC “can produce system change [ . . . ] by developing and implementing innovative and path-breaking research, teaching, and engagement with Indigenous communities.” However, Dr. Wolf understands these statements to have a different meaning.
“Indigenous people[s] are experts in seeing lip-service. We know when promises like this are put down on paper, they don’t mean anything in terms of how our lives change for the better. It’s the same battle, different piece of paper. We are the one who are stuck with doing all the work, and we meet the same barriers every time. People say they are committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, but they want to keep their privilege at the same time. It doesn’t work.”
She noted in her third press release that her “greatest wish” is for “resourced bodies [to] be established throughout the university to ensure that the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan, which focuses entirely on fulfilling the legislation laid out in the UNDRIP, [is] established this year.” She added, “I never want another person, Indigenous or otherwise, to endure the discrimination for teaching the facts about the UNDRIP.”
“In every colonial system in Canada, there are no established policies or procedures to protect Indigenous people[s] from white supremacy. When we are eliminated for trying to create change, the institution can just spit [us] out; there are no avenues within the institutions for recourse or for accountability.” She added, “Indigenous professors who are willing to assimilate are the only one[s] left in all levels of the B.C. education systems.”
According to Dr. Wolf, her personal email has been flooded with support from people around the world.
“People are appalled and outraged by UBC’s attempt to erase me, and they promise that they will not allow me to become a Missing Indigenous Woman. Their activism is glorious. I know change will happen.”
“My goal right now is just to not disappear,” she voiced. “My message matters, and my student assessments are correct. I’m an Indigenous scholar and leader, and I deserve to be paid fairly for what I do and to be protected and helped as I make the changes the President of UBC says it supports. Policies, procedures, and monetary provision to implement these must be adopted at the highest levels of all Canadian institutions.