Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University
Inclusion of Aboriginal peoples, culture, perspectives and history across all areas of the university is fundamentally important to fulfilling Memorial University’s mandate of meeting the needs of the people of our province. The university has been working steadily towards realizing these responsibilities.
Last year, Memorial’s Office of Aboriginal Affairs undertook a study which resulted in the report, “Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University”. The report was commissioned in response to a recommendation in the Teaching and Learning Framework that identified a need to support vulnerable learners at Memorial. Download the report here.
The reporting process included analysis of the results of an online survey of current and past students who self-identified as Aboriginal, individual consultations and interviews with current and former Aboriginal students, as well as faculty and staff across campuses, an extensive literature review and an environmental scan.
The research was conducted and the findings were compiled by Dr. Melanie Greene, who at the time was project manager in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, under the direction of Dr. Evan Simpson, then interim special advisor to the president on Aboriginal Affairs. Student research assistants Thomas Dymond, Emma House and Kimberley Wakeford also supported the development of the report.
“Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University” shines a light on the experiences of Aboriginal students and provides an overview of what was heard through the interviews and consultations. This overview is enhanced by the findings of a “Report on the Knowledge of Aboriginal People and Topics by First Year Students at Memorial”, an awareness report on Memorial which was received this fall and is being released simultaneously with the internal report. Download the report here.
Several themes were identified from the interview findings: (i) the need for cultural awareness and sensitivity training; (ii) the reality of culture shock and transition for many Aboriginal students attending Memorial; and (iii) the need to enhance curriculum and Aboriginal language courses. These themes confirm the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the “Knowledge” report mentioned above. It is now clear that most students coming into Memorial know very little about Aboriginal people and far too many come with deeply reinforced prejudices. That said, many seem willing to learn more. The university is well placed to fulfill that need and has been busily addressing it.
Actions in progress and next steps
Six recommendations are identified in the Greene report and steps have already been taken to address each one, including moving forward with developing Aboriginal education initiatives, strengthening Aboriginal programming and providing the best possible supports for Aboriginal students across all campuses.
The Office of Aboriginal Affairs, in consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Committee and members of the university’s senior administration, is developing a strategic planning process for Aboriginal Affairs at the University.
In October 2015, the university established the role of Aboriginal cultural education coordinator. The coordinator joined the staff this January and is currently delivering educational and awareness sessions for faculty, staff and students around Aboriginal peoples, cultures, histories, and perspectives, among other relevant topics.
Aboriginal land acknowledgements have been developed for Grenfell Campus, the St. John’s campus and Marine Institute, and a University Statement about the regular use of these acknowledgements at ceremonies, meetings, and gatherings is currently being completed.
The Aboriginal Affairs Office, the Aboriginal Resource Office and the Student Affairs office at Grenfell Campus offer cultural activities and events throughout the year that celebrate and recognize Aboriginal peoples. Recent and ongoing initiatives include:
- A drumming group gathering that takes place weekly in the University Centre.
- Indigenous Peoples Week at Grenfell Campus – the inaugural week took place in January 2016 and will be held again in January 2017.
- Aboriginal Peoples Week on the St. John’s Campus – this week-long series of events took place in March 2016 and featured a public forum on Indian Residential Schools. This event will be held again in 2017.
- The Undergraduate Forum hosted an Elders storytelling session day with other cultural activities throughout the day in November 2016.
The university is actively working on plans for Aboriginal House, a building on the St. John’s campus that will be a focal point for academic and cultural programming. The design aesthetic reflects Aboriginal culture and a welcoming atmosphere.
This year the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences changed its Aboriginal Studies minor to a certificate program in Aboriginal and Indigenous Studies, opening it up to a much larger group of students.
In August 2016, Memorial offered its first workshop on how to Indigenize course content.
All of the university’s professional schools and faculties now reserve seats in their programs for Aboriginal students.
The Faculty of Medicine is displaying leadership with its Aboriginal Health Initiative, making the Faculty more inclusive for Aboriginal students from the various First Nations/Inuit/ Metis communities, predominantly within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The project focuses on two key areas: bridging programs, services and programs designed to recruit more Aboriginal students into the Faculty of Medicine; and heightened cultural sensitivity of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students on issues of Aboriginal health and health care services in both undergraduate and graduate medical programs.
Important work has been done to date, but it is equally important to recognize that we have a lot of work ahead of us. “Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University” gives us insight into what Aboriginal students are experiencing in the academic setting, enabling us to focus on areas where we can improve and move forward. This will require collaboration and efforts from all members of the university community, including faculty, staff and students.
The university community is encouraged to review “Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University” and “Report on the Knowledge of Aboriginal People and Topics by First Year Students at Memorial”.
Updates on the process to address the recommendations of “Celebrating Aboriginal Culture and Cultivating Inclusion at Memorial University” will be shared with the university community as they become available.
NOTE: Reports are released as received by Memorial University and any typographical errors are the responsibility of the authors.