I come from the Yukon in northern Canada. I am a citizen of Kluane First Nation, and I belong to the Wolf moiety. My background is in working with indigenous groups to further indigenous self-determination, indigenous self-governance, reconciliation and post-secondary education.
I was honoured to travel to Finland and Norway this March. The journey was centered around visiting a number of communities, people and organizations in northern Norway and Finland. It struck me almost immediately how at home I felt there. It was not any one thing in particular, but it was the combination of northern foods, small towns, and indigenous stories and values everywhere. It also struck me that there were such similarities in the shared history of colonization and common goals of what we would term reconciliation in Canada. I found it empowering to be with others who have a similar history and who share the amazing resilience of indigenous peoples around the globe. I am very grateful for the time to see and experience a small part of the Sámi world from reindeer herding and fishing on the coast to meetings at the Sámi Parliaments in both Norway and Finland. It really helped to ground me in how much the different parts of the North have in common and the important role that indigenous peoples, cultures and languages play in the world.
It is my personal commitment to support the transformative power of education in healing from the longstanding impacts of colonization. In Canada it is widely understood that education played a huge role in the oppression and assimilation of indigenous peoples, and therefore it must be at the forefront of the complicated work of reconciliation. It means working hard to integrate an appreciation and understanding of indigenous peoples and worldviews throughout post-secondary institutions and across all functions of tertiary education. This involves positioning learning organizations as agents of support and empowerment for indigenous communities on their paths to self-determination. It looks like fundamental change to how we do what we do at universities and colleges and who we do it with. The effectiveness of this work is, in my experience, predicated on moving from having indigenous communities as stakeholders to working with them as true partners.
Reconciliation in education can look like mandatory training for staff and students on the history and culture, built by indigenous people from their perspective, or ensuring that all graduates leave the institution with a foundational understanding of the place and people with whom they share a history and territory. Or it can look like co-designing programs and services with indigenous partners to ensure that the institution is meeting their education and training needs. When we build programs and services in partnership, we have a much greater chance of ensuring accessible and relevant programming, and I strongly believe that has the power to transform entire communities.
When we uphold indigenous beliefs and worldviews as equally important and valuable to those that are dominant, and when we work to shift power dynamics towards co-decision making, education can become an amazing tool for indigenous peoples and communities.
Interested in hearing more about reconciliation in post-secondary institutions in Canada? Check out a new podcast series outlining the reconciliation journey that Yukon College has undertaken at ourpath.yukoncollege.yk.ca.