Provincial advocacy group’s unclear Indigenization project creates a mockery of Indigenous peoples

Non–Indigenous people shouldn’t be advocating nor attempting to create Indigenized organizations/spaces without Indigenous people’s involvement.

Take the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), an organization that brings together members of Albertan students’ unions to voice the agenda of students to the provincial government. They were recently criticized during a presentation at the University of Alberta Students’ Coucil meeting for their creation of an “Indigenization research project.”

The chair and the vice-president of CAUS, both non-Indigenous, were not capable of answering any questions regarding this project. In fact, the only comment regarding the project was one bullet point on a PowerPoint slide which accompanied no further details or explanations.

The fact that CAUS members couldn’t explain their lack of knowledge about this initiative brings up various questions. Why are non-Indigenous members of CAUS so interested in creating an initiative regarding Indigenization? Do they have a clear idea about what Indigenization means?

What is most frustrating about this project is the fact that the researcher hired to work for the organization is not even Indigenous themselves, and had failed to undergo any form of anti-bias, anti-oppression, or sensitivity training. According to Rebecca Thomas, a Mi’kmaq woman and Halifax’s poet laureate, someone with “the lived experience of what it’s like to be a product of these systems within Canada” is the only person that can properly lead an Indigenization project.

So, how is a non-Indigenous member supposed to initiate an Indigenization process?

Before moving forward, let’s first answer the most important point that CAUS failed to do: what is Indigenization? In a post-secondary context, Indigenization is the process of incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and methodologies into university institutions so that the university experience for Indigenous people aligns with their own lives and worldviews.

For example, BCcampus — the B.C. version of CAUS — has put out a list of various different guides for their Indigenization project. These guides are created through BCcampus and the Ministry of Advanced Education, and led by Indigenous education leaders, the First Nations Education Steering Committee, the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association, and the Métis Nation BC. The guides include various books for instructors, leaders and administrators, staff, student services, curriculum developers, and so on, regarding topics of Indigenization of these institutions.

What CAUS should take note of is the complexity of this project and the number of different Indigenous organizations that partook in its creation. If Indigenization is to happen in an organization, Indigenous peoples should be the ones involved in creating the project, not a single non-Indigenous researcher employed by CAUS.

What CAUS has inevitably done is create a mockery out of Indigenization. CAUS should take the time to educate themselves about Indigenous identity and belief systems before making such careless decisions.

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