By Jason Herring, November 2 2017 —
The University of Calgary Board of Governors unanimously voted to approve the Indigenous Strategy at its Oct. 20 meeting. The strategy was first presented to BOG on June 23. As part of its goals, the strategy has a Blackfoot name — ii’ taa’ poh’ to’ p. According to the U of C, the name means a place to rejuvenate and re-energize during a journey. The U of C is hosting an event to celebrate the launch of the strategy on Nov. 16 in MacHall Ballroom.
Kainai elder Andy Blackwater bestowed the strategy with a Blackfoot name during a ceremony on June 21, National Aboriginal Day. According to Indigenous Strategy task force steering committee co-chair Jacqueline Ottmann, the name carries symbolic significance for the university.
“It’s perfect for the University of Calgary and something to strive to,” Ottmann said.
The strategy intends to create a welcoming environment that is inclusive of Indigenous learners and perspectives. Development of the Indigenous Strategy began in March 2016. The strategy has a terms of reference document that outlines its purpose. There is also a second guiding document called “Journey Towards the Indigenous Strategy,” which details processes like receiving validation from Indigenous leaders and collecting stories and information from Indigenous communities. The two documents are being followed and consulted in parallel to implement the strategy.
“Very early on, in the very first meeting in March 2016, we knew that we would have to do things in a different way, one that honours and respects and draws from Indigenous knowledges. That’s where the idea of the Indigenous framework emerged,” Ottmann said. “To see this parallel process happen in a very real way, in an institution this large is amazing.”
Ottmann said consultation was important in developing the Indigenous Strategy. The U of C hosted three gatherings to discuss topics like curriculum, programming and barriers for Indigenous students. These, along with an online survey, amounted to about 2,200 people providing feedback on the plan.
“A lot of [the results of the consultation] has to do with systemic change and system-wide learning about Indigenous perspectives and drawing upon Indigenous knowledges to strengthen the university,” Ottmann said. “Also, how we can meet the needs and address the needs of Indigenous students and faculty.”
Ottmann hopes the strategy will make the U of C more inviting to Indigenous students.
“I think Indigenous people are drawn to places where they feel welcomed and represented, whether it’s through content in the curriculum or programming,” Ottmann said. “To see those perspectives actually live within the university will draw more Indigenous students and faculty to the U of C.”
According to a report at Oct. 20 BOG meeting, the U of C saw nine per cent increase in Indigenous students enrolment last year. The number includes both undergraduate and graduate students.
“As a part of Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the University of Calgary has been developing an Indigenous strategy with Indigenous and campus communities. This strategy – a result of extensive consultation, input and research – will help guide the University of Calgary in its commitment to resetting the relationship with Indigenous communities. We look forward to sharing the journey of this important step forward for our community in the coming weeks, months and years,” U of C provost Dru Marshall said in a written statement.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that ‘ii’ taa’ poh’ to’ p’ was the U of C’s Blackfoot name. It is actually the Indigenous Strategy’s Blackfoot name. Additionally, the story identified Jacqueline Ottmann as a current U of C faculty member. She is now at the University of Saskatchewan. The Gauntlet apologies to its readers for these errors.