About Stryker Calvez

Stryker is an Indigenous educator and researcher working at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness as an Educational Development Specialist - Aboriginal Engagement and Education.

Land Acknowledgements – A Reflection 5-years After the TRC Report

By Stryker Calvez and Rose Roberts

Five years after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, Land Acknowledgements are still gaining strength as an important component of the University landscape. In fact, it is more common to notice when this statement has been missed at an event, meeting or in a course than when it is present. More often than not we have people tell us about how uncomfortable someone got when they didn’t hear the land acknowledgement at the beginning of a proceeding, and the lengths people have gone to right this wrong. These stories are a testament to the power of this protocol, its intended purpose, and the readiness of people and society to embark on the journey toward reconciliation  

Five years after the TRC report, the concerns for land acknowledgements are not about whether or not to use them, but how to use them with more purpose, conviction and integrity. Our colleagues are eager to be more prepared to meaningfully engage in supporting and carrying their part of reconciliation forward. This recognized responsibility is not just for themselves, but for their friends, family, students and close colleagues. And, they are doing it for the next generations, our children and grandchildren, who will benefit from a society that is whole and not afflicted by colonization. Lastly, many people are doing land acknowledgements because they care and love the land that provides so much for all of us; the same land that has shaped and nurtured the Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan for millennia.   

This last point is truly what the land acknowledgement is about, the recognition of place – the land, the sky, the water, the plants and the animals – and the people who are of this land. After thousands of years of intimate interaction and relationship, the land and its people have become immutably connected, which makes Indigenous Peoples of this land — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually

Before the TRC report, many non-Indigenous people struggled with this Indigenous spiritual notion of relationship to the land and to place (what the Cree people call wahkohtowin). Post-TRC, the land acknowledgement has become a doorway for many people to gain greater awareness and understanding about the role of place and its impact on people. With this emerging understanding they have begun to reflect on how this place they now call home is leaving an indelible mark on each one of us  

To this effect, by incorporating land acknowledgements in your work, you are contributing to the process of honouring and embracing the spirit of a place, with all of its wisdom, knowledge and compassionand invoking that spirit in support of doing things in a good way And nowhere is it said that you cannot personalize your land acknowledgement, in fact we highly recommend it. There is the risk that a formal land acknowledgement that everyone uses can become commonplace, and it is the personalized ones that people have repeatedly told us had an impact on them.   

We have been offering land acknowledgement workshops at GMCTL for a while now, and here are some examples of personalized land acknowledgements (we did receive permission from the individuals to share publicly):  

I live and work on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.  The Indigenous nations who entered into Treaty 6 are the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, and Nakota.  I also recognize the Dakota and Lakota, who too have lived here long before contact.  Let us pay our respect to the ancestors of this place.  May our relationships with the land teach us to live and work in good relationship with one another.  (Stephanie Frost, BC Member, Coordinator Online Support, GMCTL) 

 

I acknowledge that we are gathered on Treaty 6 Territory and Homeland of the Métis. I pay respects to the original caretakers and warriors of this place: the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Blackfoot, the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Nations, and my people, the Métis. Spanning the past, present, and future, I affirm the relationships we have to each other, including our relations to the animals and insects that inhabit the water, land, and sky. I also recognize the relationship and responsibility we have to the lands of Treaty 6; the quiet creeks and rushing rivers, the rustling grasses and sprawling forests, the brilliant palettes of the skies, the roots that grip the soil, and the earth beneath our feet. (Jennifer Sedgewick, Research Assistant, College of Medicine) 

 

I come here as a visitor on the Treaty Six territory. I realize that this beautiful land is the homeland of the First Nation and Metis ancestors, and I respect their culture and rights fully and deeply with humbleness.  (Yanhua Liu, Visiting Scholar (China)College of Engineering) 

 

By engaging in personalizing the land acknowledgement, you are participating in a process of respecting the relationships between the land and all that live within it: all our relationsAcknowledging the Land is a timeless tradition that has been and will be around as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.  

 

 

Why Do We Acknowledge Treaty 6 & Metis?

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A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Monday August 29, 2016 from 9:30 – 9:55. Register here.
Many of you may have noticed that across the campus that there has been an increase in number of people who are acknowledging “that we are on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respect to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of this place and reaffirm our relationship with one another”. One year ago the University of Saskatchewan’s academic governing body, the University Council, agreed to use specific language to acknowledge that the University was built on Indigenous peoples’ land. This official acknowledgement was developed for use at important meetings and gatherings on campus.

Since starting in my position I have been asked numerous times why are we doing this? What does it mean?

I have been working with Indigenous communities for a long time and most of the meetings that I have attended start with some type of acknowledgement of the land and place. My understanding of why we do this is that it shows respect for the land and the people who have lived on it. So much of what we, Indigenous people, know about the world and ourselves is based on the places we have lived for forever. Our land is sacred in that it is an important part of who we are and who we have always been. When we acknowledge the land and territory we are in, we are taking a purposeful moment to respect our history, culture, and knowledge that exist because of the land.

But it is more than just about the land that we belong to, it is also about the treaties we signed. The oral stories describing the treaty process provide our account of the agreement to share our land and resources, but not to absolute surrender of the land. We knew the value of our land with intimate detail, so we would never have given it away. Would you? However, the treaties were negotiated and signed in legal English and reinforced afterwards to support Canadian prerogatives rather than the spirit of the agreement or the Indigenous position. So despite agreeing to share the land with the new settlers in return for ongoing support, an unscrupulous and systemic process of governance ensured that Indigenous people never received what was promised for the land. Therefore, the prosperity and economic stability that Canada benefits from based on the gift, or sacrifice, of Indigenous people. So acknowledging the traditional territory that we are on also recognizes and honours this gift.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for bringing a national spotlight to the cultural genocide experienced by Indigenous people. In better understanding these experiences I have added another layer of understanding to my acknowledgements. Acknowledging the place that I am meeting is also a way of participating in reconciliation; publicly declaring the importance of remembering that as long as the sun has shined, the grass grown, and the rivers flowed, the place we are meeting has a sacred connection to Indigenous people. For many, this acknowledgement will be a starting point for a united show support and willingness to help build a health and productive future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

Historical Biases in Understanding Culture – A Barrier to Indigenization?

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Western society has made significant advances in empirically derived truth and scientific inquiry (e.g., anthropology, psychology, linguistics, etc.) since the Age of Enlightenment (e.g., Descartes, Diderot, Montesquieu, Turgot, Vico, Voltaire, etc.). The impact and importance of this epistemological approach to the world and its mass adoption by Western societies can be perceived in many elements of European civilization and culture (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994).

The rise of Europe’s epistemological renaissance occurred during the era of colonial expansion. At the time that Europe was pressing itself onto numerous societies around the world, dominating the global stage, many Western thinkers were using this colonial perspective as the backdrop for their formation of a scientific approach to culture. From their perspective, culture comprised of a society’s knowledge, values, beliefs, arts, technologies, morals, laws, customs, practices and habits (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Hofstede, 1984, 2001; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994). While this is a reasonable interpretation, it contained, unfortunately, the value of innovation and technological advancement (see Tylor, 1871; Harris, 1971; Stocking, 1966). This innovation approach to knowledge and culture is a European value rather than a core component of culture. The problem with this misattribution is that it is self-serving; it allows for the imposition of continuum-based view of a society’s culture based on their technological sophistication and advancement. For Europeans, this provided them with the appearance of an unbiased way of judging societies as more or less civilized (or savage). Furthermore, this social evolutionist perspective of culture (Harris, 1971; Long & Chakov, 2009) allowed colonial societies to believe, naively or not, that less civilized societies would eventually evolve toward the same position as Europe, especially if they were given the ‘right’ support and guidance (Boas, 1904).

Fortunately, more modern social scientific thought posits “that cultures be understood in their own right, not as a rung in a hierarchical ladder of evolution, […] but simply as a qualitatively varied entity” (citing Boas; Hogan & Sussner, 2001, p. 22). Despite this more equitable and relativistic approach to culture in social scientific disciplines, it is very difficult for the typical citizen to not use what they know and value as a filter for examining other cultures and ways of knowing. Without the appropriate training and critical reflection, anyone can be forgiven for not recognizing this misattribution bias. From this perspective, I sometimes wonder if remnants of Tylor’s 1871 perspective of culture still exist in our society? How pervasive is the use of one’s own values, beliefs and institutions in trying to understand, and judge, other cultures? Can we find ways to move past these types of biases to build a pluralistic cultured environment at the University of Saskatchewan?

As always, I would appreciate hearing from you about your thoughts, concerns, or suggestions on this blog post. Please contact me to talk (stryker.calvez@usask.ca).

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

References
Boas, F. (1904). The history of anthropology. Science, 20, 513-524.
Boon, J. A. (1972). From Symbolism to Structuralism: Levi-Strauss in Literary Tradition. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Goodenough, W. H. (1961). Comment on cultural evolution. Daedalus, 90, 521-528.
Harris, M. (1971).  The rise of anthropological theory: A history of theories of culture. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Inc.
Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: Differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions and organizations across nations, 2nd Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hogan, J. D. & Sussner, B. D. (2001). Cross-cultural psychology in historical perspective. In L. L. Adler & U. P. Gielen (Eds.). Cross-cultural topics in psychology. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Keesing, R. M. (1974). Theories of culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 3, 73-97.
Long, H., & Chakov, K. (2009). Social Evolutionism. Retrieved on April 30, 2010, from: http://web.as.ua.edu/ant/cultures/cultures.php.
Stocking, G. W. (1966). Franz Boas and the culture concept in historical perspective. American Anthropologist, 68, 867-882.
Triandis HC. 1994. Culture and Social Behaviour. New York: McGraw-Hill
Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive Culture. New York, NY: Brentano’s.

Indigenizing Education Series: Getting started …

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As an Indigenous educator, researcher, and scholar, academics have asked me more often about ‘how’ we, the collective we, can improve the situation for the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples than ‘why’ we should do this? While I appreciate the recognition that something needs to be done, I am often taken back when I realize that the reasons for this change, the ‘why’, are not well understood. How do you Indigenize an institution, like the University of Saskatchewan, if you don’t now what the issues are that need to be addressed? Therefore, my response is always preceded by a pause as I contemplate where do I start?

I would like to be clear, I am never upset by the ‘how’ question. The fact that people are asking questions is excellent, but we need to understand the reasons for ‘why’ we are Indigenizing so that we are better informed about ‘how’ we should Indigenize. Over the coming months, I intend to write a series of blog posts identifying and exploring some key issues that I hope you will find informative and interesting.

… In the classroom

So why isn’t there an adequate and necessary amount of support for Indigenous students to achieve their academic goals? I believe that it is important to understand that education can be a loaded term for some Indigenous peoples. Educational hostility or ambivalence does exist in some communities and households towards people who pursue educational goals. This lack of support for Western education is a direct result of the residential boarding school program. Community members who went to or have family members who attended residential schools (the last school closed in 1996 in SK; the Gordon Residential School) can perceive education as a negative goal. This means that there can be limited support for community members to attain high school diplomas or to pursue education at University. Western education can be seen as a direct threat to a community’s culture, language, and way of life (Battiste, 2001). This is the legacy that the residential school system instilled in Indigenous people, a lack of trust and value for Western education.

As educators, we should all recognize this lived reality for Indigenous students and try to support those who have worked hard to overcome these types of challenges to be at University. Once they have arrived, it should be our goal, even responsibility, to try to limit and remove the social, personal, and educational barriers that Indigenous students contend with. We must make classrooms safe and nurturing.

Classroom challenges for Indigenous students are sometimes related to their different ways of knowing, learning, and communicating course content. These students can have different perspectives or present ideas in the classroom that may not be perceived objectively by others in the classroom as the expected and appropriate response. In fact, differences in worldviews can often be treated as less-than-positive by instructors or other students, sometimes even coming across as hostile or prejudicial. We are talking about comments that are stereotype-based or discriminatory about Indigenous culture, history, and worldviews. For a great example of what I am talking about, take a few minutes to view the University of British Columbia’s short 20-minute video where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students provide examples of some of the difficulties that Indigenous students encounter in the classroom. These examples candidly and provocatively highlight moments when students did not feeling safe or supported and the repercussions that these experiences had on the students.

The University of British Columbia has developed a number of resources to help those who are interested in thinking through issues around classroom climate. Five modules have been developed as a useful starting point for your consideration.


Battiste, M. (2001). Aboriginal knowing: First voices. The U of S Pointer, 4, 1- 3.

 

Truth and Reconciliation – Call to Action for Educators

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Indigenous people and their communities have had a long and contentious experience with Western education. For far too long, schools and education were used as instruments to systematically dismantle Indigenous culture, their way of living and knowing. Generation after generation of children were taken from their homes, sometime forcefully, in the name of providing them with a civilized education. Instead, what many of these children experienced was at its best a destructive education, and at its worse an inhumane brainwashing, aimed at having these children renounce their ‘savage’ Indigenous perspectives for a more ‘sophisticated’ Canadian approach to life.

Many Canadian universities are just beginning to acknowledge their role in reconciling the negative educational experiences of Indigenous people. Many Universities, like the University of Saskatchewan, are starting to recognize and respond appropriately to the impact of intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools by critically looking at how to effectively support Indigenous students’ ability to participate in postsecondary schools (please see future blog posts for more information on this topic). This is further supported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action for all educators across Canada.

So it is with great anticipation and excitement that I am looking forward to seeing how our new University president, Peter Stoicheff, will plan out and follow through on his priority to Indigenize the University of Saskatchewan.

In Saskatchewan, including here at the University, we are blessed with an abundance of strong, capable Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are invested in improving the academic experiences and outcomes of Indigenous students. This is reflected in the strong response and support for the University of Saskatchewan’s two day national forum, “Building Reconciliation: Universities Answering the TRC’s Calls to Action”. Canadian university presidents and their leadership teams, First Nations and Métis leaders, student leaders, Aboriginal scholars, and scholars dedicated to research that is meaningful to Aboriginal peoples will all participate. For more information about this event, please visit Building Reconciliation.

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