Indigenous gathering event discusses working steps towards reconciliation

The Indigenous Talking Circle allowed attendees to speak without interruption

This is an image of an orange, “every child matters” flag. The flag is being blown in the wind so the text is visible.
PHOTO: Chris Robert / Unplash

By: Eden Chipperfield, News Writer

September 30 will mark the third year of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Canadian government established Bill C-5, which was a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action, “to honour survivors, their families and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.” 

This past May, SFU’s Lhuḵw’lhuḵw’áyten (Burnaby Mountain) campus held a gathering event for Indigenous Peoples who work at SFU to discuss the progress and feedback of the “three newly formed senior Indigenous positions as well as a draft Indigenous governance structure.” The conversation took place in the style of a Talking Circle, a practice used in some Indigenous communities to ensure everyone gathered has an opportunity to speak and that all members are heard without being interrupted. Circles are a way for individuals to interact with one another in a long-established fashion, to “discuss topics and make decisions together.” 

The gathering was attended by SFU president Joy Johnson, who discussed how SFU is working towards truth and reconciliation through their “What’s Next?” report. Chris Syeta’xtn Lewis, director of Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation, spoke about “the collective journey to increase Indigenous participation and decision-making when decisions are being made for and about Indigenous peoples at all levels of SFU.” Lewis also praised the Indigenous leadership listening and implementation task force and the Indigenous governance committee for their efforts in achieving “increased Indigenous participation and decision-making” at SFU. 

The event highlighted various topics including Indigenous involvement at SFU and the increasing presence of Indigenous leadership. The first topic discussed was the governance structure: namely, the administrative roles of Indigenous executive lead, vice-provost of Indigenous academic affairs, and director of Indigenous initiatives, people, equity, and inclusion. Each position has many essential features, including the “ability to balance family and community obligations and university business.” It was noted that “mechanisms for tracking accountability on driving truth and reconciliation need to be put in place” for the Indigenous executive lead. The vice-provost of Indigenous academic affairs aims “to bring into the role the depth of Indigenous knowledge systems into the way of the institution.” Another responsibility is to “focus on breaking silos, to be the voice and support cross-institution.” Focuses for the director of Indigenous initiatives and people, equity, and inclusion concentrated on “retention and support: holistic onboarding, health and well-being, integrated Indigenous supports, and resources on campus.”

The meeting also discussed support for Indigenous graduate students, as there are many barriers Indigenous students encounter while on their academic journeys. For example, housing, affordability, and funding are challenges graduate students face. One suggestion for this was providing transportation between all three campuses. They also considered how to address emotional labour and cultural celebrations. 

Lewis facilitated a discussion on the governance initiative. Comments surrounding the initiative included the need to “develop a mechanism to address teachable moments.” He also noted it is important for the Finance & Admin and Advancement & Alumni Engagement to increase their “Indigenous representation, as this is currently missing.” 

The conversation surrounding the governance initiative also pinpointed roles such as the Indigenous Council, which is looking to form a connection within the SFU community. Attendees also spoke about ensuring the “Office for Aboriginal Peoples will be lifted to serve as secretariat to and contact for Council with new positions and a proactive focus will serve as a gatekeeper’ to Council and other Indigenous positions and groups.”

The Peak contacted the Indigenous Student Centre at SFU for an interview but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.