Indigenous Voices Program is Built for You


A ground-breaking program, almost unique to post-secondary institutions in Canada, is offered through our own Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectivness: Indigenous Voices. In its final of three years of PCIP funding, we have been able to develop, pilot, and now deliver campus-wide this staff and faculty program, free of charge.  The 14-gathering program was developed in consultation with Elders, Knowledge Keepers, community members, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty and staff, and they continue to introduce learners to a variety of topics that challenge common misconceptions about Indigenous peoples, colonial structures and practices within education (decolonizing), and to Indigenous cultures, ways of knowing, world views, and histories (Indigenizing).  Click here to view the program model.

Many participants want to begin the program from the beginning, with the “Shared Ground” gathering.  In this gathering, terminology, the Indian Act, explanations of “stats,” myths and misconceptions, and participants’ Q & As are answered.  Because so many people have requested this gathering, it is now being offered once monthly.  The remaining gatherings are held once in each term, so it is not too late to become involved this term!  The program is not prescriptive, in that participants need to go through program systematically—rather, through self-assessment, they determine which gatherings are most suitable to them.

Perhaps most exciting about the program is that participants are not only describing changes to their professional lives, but even more importantly, to their personal lives.  The process of transformation is underway—the impetuous behind the pillar of “Aboriginal Engagement” in IP3.

Participants who have invested 20 hours or more in the program are eligible for a certificate of participation, but we have means to document any gatherings attended by any one individual, for his/her records.

“Time” is cited as the largest obstacle between whether or not these gatherings are attended.  The learnings and profound effects of the program make creating time most valuable and rewarding.

You may register for our gatherings on the Indigenous Voices site, or through the calendar of events on the Gwenna Moss site.

Adopting ‘Institutional Humility’


As a U-15 institution, we have a remarkable opportunity before us: we can be leaders in many ways.  I would like to suggest that one of these ways might be by adopting and communicating ‘institutional humility.’  The recent draft of “Vision 2025: From Spirit to Action,” provides us with an excellent opportunity to convey this humility.

How do I conceptualize ‘institutional humility’?  We acknowledge that our teaching, research, and scholarship can be strengthened by opening ourselves to the different ways of knowing, pedagogies, worldviews, histories, dialogues, and being in relationship to one another.  Rather than responding to difference as ‘meeting the needs’ of any cultural group (and by culture, I am not only referring to ‘ethnicity,’ but a plethora of communities). Well-intentioned phrases such as “working with Aboriginal communities to identify their unique post-secondary needs” or  “integrating the needs of Aboriginal people into the goals of our institution,” serve only to perpetuate a deficit-philosophy in regard to Aboriginal peoples.  The consequences of this perpetuation are to promote a ‘savior’ or ‘benevolence’ role on the part of the institution, and to communicate to Indigenous students, staff, and faculty that they are not here to contribute, but are only a wanting group requiring remedial assistance. A rephrasing might generate a rethinking, such as: ‘work with Aboriginal communities to achieve within the university a unity of spirit and deeper respect for diversity, cultures and traditions, and an inclusiveness and reflection thereof.’  This way of thinking is equally applicable to other cultures and communities.

We can come to understand that we can all learn from, better ourselves, and benefit from, what each individual and cultural group brings to the university.  In many ways, western/European ways of thinking and doing have built the reputation in which we currently take pride. Imagine how momentous it would be if we raised our collective voices, knowledge, and actions, taking the dominant culture from the forefront of our institutional identity, and moving it alongside those outside of the dominant culture.

To adopt ‘institutional humility’ means to change the way we carry out our daily activities as students, scholars, teachers, and staff.  Rather than ‘helping’ people ‘fit in’ to the institution, by creating or limiting “special programs for Aboriginal learners or employees,” based on their “challenges,” we ought to make way for all our voices and activities—and become better for it.  To communicate humility means to ensure that our institutional, and individual language reflects not a ‘hand-up’ philosophy, but rather a collaborative philosophy. We raise a collective voice, not employing ‘us’ and ‘them’ language.  When the institution promotes ways of thinking and doing as separate from the ways of thinking and doing by non-dominant groups, and single out certain peoples as requiring “our” assistance, the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is reinforced.

Language is powerful.  It conveys to others our beliefs, but it also shapes how we see and live in our world.  If our language conveys that some are inferior to others, that will shape how we think and what we do.  But language can also convey humility, which makes us more open people in all that we do, and changes the way we act, the way we treat one another, the rigour of our scholarship, and the richness and depth of the education we provide. Humility will build bridges, bring us the forward-looking goals of working on the “world’s most vexing problems,” to establishing “partnerships,” “improving our learning and discovery standards,” “becom[ing] a world-leading authority on globally significant issues,” and achieving “equity in learning and discovery opportunities.”  When we look to 2025, we want to demonstrate our commitment to being willing to revision our identity.

(All quotations derived from the draft document, “Vision 2025: From Spirit to Action.)

We Are All Treaty People

In the fall, the office of the VP Teaching and Learning began offering treaty education to faculty and staff at the University of Saskatchewan.  Each month, a cohort of people engaged in an online module, and then their learning culminated in a three-hour face-to-face session with a Traditional Knowledge Keeper who further illuminated treaty history and issues, and who also provided some critical cultural context.  Gordon Barnhart, in his 2007 speech to the throne, made treaty education mandatory in the K-12 school system, so our upcoming generation has some knowledge of treaty history and issues.  But for most of the rest of us, we have had little exposure to treaty education, and have a huge gap in our knowledge of First Nations peoples.

The development of the treaty module took over a year, and many people were consulted with, including Elders and people from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner.  The first question asked in every face-to-face session is, “Why do you think the university has invested in teaching faculty and staff about treaties?”  The answers are fairly consistent: it is in accordance with the goal of “Aboriginal Engagement” in the third integrated plan, many people have never learned about treaties, there is a growing demographic of First Nations people, and non-First Nations need to become better informed in order to create a more hospitable campus environment for Aboriginal students.

But for me, who has collaborated on the development and delivery of these modules, there are issues that are even more important, and these are what motivate me to learn and share what I know (so far).  I will use two Cree words to describe these important principles, from the book Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan, with the hopes that I am not using the words improperly. The first principle that has resonated for me, is that of kihci-asotamâtowin, which means “sacred promises to one another, the treaty sovereigns sacred undertakings”(25). A common misunderstanding amongst people is that the treaties were mere land transactions, undertaken and finalized over 100 years ago.  But when the new comers entered into treaties, they entered into a covenant with First Nations people, which was made sacred by the smoking of the pipe.  In doing so, it was understood that both parties were making an agreement, not only with one another, but also with the Creator.  Thus, the covenant was an enduring one, which could only be broken by the Creator (Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan, 25).  The treaties were to last as long as “the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.”  So today, we—everyone—are responsible for honouring the treaties, not only as they were written, but also as they were orally negotiated.

The second principle that is important to me is miyo-wîcehtowin, meaning “getting along well with others, good relations, [and] expanding the circle (14).  Becoming more knowledgeable about treaty history, and about current treaty issues promises to bring about a greater understanding of First Nations (and other Aboriginal people).  In a province that, through statistics, reveals individual and systemic racism, and discrimination toward Aboriginal people, we all have a responsibility to become more informed, and this, surely, would be a beginning point for building “good relations.”

While treaty education is a means to compensate for a western education that erased or misrepresented First Nations people, it is crucial that we learn how to create a more welcoming environment for Aboriginal students. On a larger scale, we have an obligation to both take on the rights and responsibilities of the treaties, and to make steps toward repairing the relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

Cardinal, H., and Walter Hildebrandt.  (2000). Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan.  U of Calgary P: Calgary.

wāskamisiwin: ‘Growing in awareness’

In 2011, the wāskamisiwin staff and faculty development series was created through collaboration among the Gwenna Moss Centre and the Colleges of Education, Nursing and Medicine. The goals of this series contribute directly to the University’s commitment to Aboriginal Engagement, and include generating increased awareness of the historical roots of contemporary social relations, considering the implications this history has for pedagogies being utilized within academic institutions, and fostering more positive and respectful relationships among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Last year’s series consisted of six presentations on topics such as Circle teachings, Indigenous health and well-being, the Plains Cree way of life, the Indian Act and residential schools, anti-racist education, and Indigenous pedagogy. This year the series has been expanded to include additional presentations on cultural protocols, cultural safety, and decolonization.

wāskamisiwin is a Plains Cree term that refers to ‘growing in awareness’ (the absence of capitalization is a feature of written Plains Cree). It is not a commonly used term among Cree-speakers, and in discussing its meaning with local Elders and knowledge keepers we discovered that the root word refers to the process of ‘regaining one’s right mind,’ or, more simply, ‘sobering up.’ We hesitated about using this term to describe our program but in the end decided to keep it. In our case, ‘sobering up’ refers to regaining our ‘right minds’ through decolonization—challenging and re-writing the colonial narratives of dominance, oppression and exclusivity that have severely impacted the lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

For more information about the wāskamisiwin series, please see the Website.