Thinking about Indigenization in the University

We are delighted to have Professor Mary Jane McCallum, University of Winnipeg, join the line-up of keynote guests at this year’s NZHA conference, Histories Meet. Mary Jane generously agreed to us sharing this abridged version of a talk about Indigenous developments in her History Department that she gave recently as part of the University of Winnipeg 2017 Spring Institute on the relationship between the university and the public good (reprinted here from the July 2017 NZHA members’ newsletter). It gives some insight into one of the projects, beyond her research interests, currently on her plate, and will likely resonate with many NZHA members.

Nii ndushiinzi Mary Jane McCallum.  Nii noonjiiyayi nalahi.  Naawalootamun wundakw takwax.  Nii ndulunaapeewi.  I am a professor at the University of Winnipeg in the History Department. I was hired here in 2008 after completing my PhD in history at the University of Manitoba. When I was hired, I was the only fully-appointed First Nations person working in tenured or tenure track position a history department in Canada and one of the only Indigenous people in this position since Olive Patricia Dickason’s retirement in the late 1990s. I am happy to say that a few more First Nations and Métis scholars have since joined me in history departments in Canada, including my own.

When I was promoted to Full Professor on 1 July 2017, I became one of two Indigenous Full Professors and the first and only Indigenous woman scholar to have ever been promoted to this rank at our university.  I am saying this to stress that my education and career as a historian has unfolded in one of the least Indigenous spaces imaginable – the English Canadian Historical Profession. I also point this out to explain a little about my lived, day-to-day, deeply felt desire for and engagement with what has come to be called Indigenization.

This is something that a lot of my Indigenous faculty colleagues also care about and we are doing the bulk of service activities and teaching on Indigenization here at the University.  But there are still very few of us and our existing administration, which really has not followed current Indigenous scholarship and academic activity closely, does need to work on communication and involvement of faculty in its Indigenization work. How many Indigenous faculty a university has matters – it matters in the decision-making processes at the university; it matters to our students in the classroom; and it matters in the philosophy and politics of our campus.

For this year’s graduation powwow, I drew up a working list of Indigenous faculty at the University of Winnipeg. There was no such list in existence, so it required some investigation.  As I built the list, I felt increasingly that honouring and involving Indigenous faculty should be central to the process of Indigenization on campus and could play an important role in bringing about meaningful social change at our university.  In our teaching, mentorship, community and academic service and scholarly research, Indigenous faculty members have been contributing significantly to these goals.  And we do so under conditions of extreme under-representation, and poor communication, which means that our workloads are substantial and are undertaken in circumstances that are not ideal.

There are by my count nine full-time (tenured or tenure track) Indigenous Regular Academic Staff at the University; six women and three men.  We are mostly in the Arts faculty, with one in Science and one in Education.  To this number we can add four full-time Indigenous contract staff and three senior administrators.  Some people may think this is a lot, relatively.  And indeed, it seems like per-capita, we are at about the norm for Canadian universities.  But, as I have shown with history departments, Canadian universities have set a low bar.  In addition, the University of Winnipeg has made a sustained commitment to Indigenous education – and has raised expectations and the bar.  We should be doing a much better job at supporting and involving our Indigenous faculty and we should be hiring more. We also need to do our own part in making the University an inspiring place for both current and future Indigenous faculty to study and work.

Indigenous faculty make a difference.

The history department I teach in has 25 members who research and teach about people, places and times around the world and across ten or more centuries.  We each have our preferred methods, approaches and influences and outside of department meetings, we don’t actually see each other that much. It seems an unlikely place to think about Indigenization in the University. But we are a department with two Indigenous faculty and several other faculty who engage with Indigenous historical research methodologies, and Indigenous teaching pedagogy. We also have a significant body of self-identified Indigenous students who gives us lots of energy, engaged department members interested in gaining a sense of historical literacy in Indigenous (particularly local) history, a supportive department chair and a University that has prioritized Indigenous education.

One of the ways of engaging with Indigenization through my department post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the “Integrated Academic and Research Plan” (IARP), which was a university administration-led prompt that asked faculty to discuss ‘strategic commitments’, one of which was a commitment to ‘sustainability and indigenization’.

I engaged by developing a response to the IARP questions on Indigenization, which was vetted by people in my department who teach Indigenous history and our chair. Among our recommendations we advocated for the hire and support of tenured and tenure-track Indigenous faculty in all departments of the university, in consultation with Indigenous scholars already at the University.  We further argued that Indigenous faculty should be mentored for and hired in administrative roles in Deans’ offices as well as the president’s office, and suggested a number of strategies designed to attract and retain Indigenous scholars, and to address issues of racism, discrimination and representation at the University. Other recommendations addressed the standard of teaching in the mandatory Indigenous Course Requirement (ICR) courses, commitment to the teaching of Indigenous languages, and meaningful participation and representation of Indigenous faculty in all aspects of university governance and operation.

In the History Department, we are taking small but meaningful steps to engage with these ideas and ensure the conversation continues. We are doing this primarily through a departmental committee, which formed at our annual Department meeting in May 2016 when the chair made time for break-out sessions, including one on Indigenization and decolonization in the classroom. The committee that resulted from that session has undertaken and begun a number of activities since then, including the development of an optional statement that acknowledges Indigenous territory and history in department syllabi, an undergraduate essay prize, and improving data collection about indigenous students who declare History as their major and developing strategies to award and recognize them. (In 2017, 20 per cent of declared History majors are self-identified Indigenous students). Upcoming and planned activities include a survey of faculty about their ICR experience, a social event with Department members, participation in University Indigenization planning and programming, and an essay for the Bulletin of the Canadian Historical Association to document the work of the committee.

This is our practical way of responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, many of which focus on education and awareness. Hopefully, it is also an example of some of the small ways that faculty and departments can play a role in Indigenizing the University.

The University of Winnipeg History Department’s current syllabus statement: The department of history at the University of Winnipeg acknowledges that we live and work in the ancestral and traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, Assiniboine, Cree, Dakota, Métis, and Oji-Cree Nations. We also acknowledge that the discipline of history has been used to support programs of dispossession and assimilation directed against Indigenous peoples. Teaching and learning Indigenous histories allows us to confront colonial history as well as honour and respect the people who have called this place home for millennia.