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.

Why Do We Acknowledge Treaty 6 & Metis?

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?

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

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 …

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

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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