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President’s message: An education in indigenization

Wilfrid Laurier University has a long history in the area that surrounds the Grand River. Since 1911 we have called this land home. While this 107-year legacy is remarkable, it is merely a chapter in the history of the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for generations over thousands of years.

At each event, when we verbally acknowledge that Laurier is on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples, it is an opportunity to not only reflect on the deep history here, but also consider how we move forward with reconciliation and our shared future. In this special edition of Campus, we reflect on how Laurier’s faculty, staff, students, alumni and community partners have demonstrated a commitment to reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action include addressing the post-secondary education gap that exists between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples. The gap is significant: less than 10 per cent of Indigenous people over the age of 25 have a university degree, while the national rate is more than 25 per cent.

Deborah MacLatchy
President Deborah MacLatchy

"The research activity, community work and scholarship of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students in Brantford, Kitchener and Waterloo inform understanding, academic teaching and government policy on Indigenous issues."

The systemic barriers are many: a lack of funding; a mistrust of the education system due to the legacy of residential schools; and the challenge of moving from remote communities to a university campus that may have few social and cultural supports.

Laurier is working together with Indigenous partners to address these barriers and cultivate the talent and skills of Indigenous youth. Indigenization is a key component of Laurier’s Strategic Academic Plan. In partnership with Indigenous leaders and educators, Laurier has developed academic programming and support services that address the needs of Indigenous students and educate all of us.

Our Indigenous Field of Study program launched in 2006 within the Faculty of Social Work. It was one of the first Canadian university programs to employ a full-time elder-in-residence. Today, we also have an elder-in-residence on our Brantford campus and part-time elders in other programs. The elders are critical sources of support for Indigenous students and provide on-campus links to their culture, history and language, aiding students in their learning journeys.

On the Brantford campus, Laurier offers an Indigenous Studies program with courses in history, culture and politics that provide an analysis of contemporary challenges facing Indigenous peoples. Laurier also offers Indigenous Studies courses on its Waterloo campus.

The research activity, community work and scholarship of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students in Brantford, Kitchener and Waterloo inform understanding, academic teaching and government policy on Indigenous issues.

In June 2017, Laurier opened the Centre for Indigegogy, which offers professional development, education and training. The centre connects academics, educators, students and the wider community with Indigenous knowledge keepers who provide valuable perspectives on culture, identity and traditions.

Next year, Laurier will undertake a major renovation of the historic Lucinda House in Waterloo, transforming it into a new Indigenous Student Centre thanks to generous donations from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students' Union and the Graduate Students' Association. The new home of the Nadjiwan Kaandossiwin Gamik Indigenous Student Centre will provide a space for students to connect with their culture through learning materials and programming, seek academic assistance and engage with each other in an informal way.

While I am very pleased by the steps Laurier has taken to indigenize our campuses, this journey toward a better future has just begun. We have a continuing responsibility to support these efforts if we hope to build a better society.

Education is a critical pathway to a renewed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. With greater understanding and shared educational experiences, our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students will together build the foundation for Canada's future.

Deborah MacLatchy, PhD

President and Vice-Chancellor

Wilfrid Laurier University