Nearly one year has passed since Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its summary report and calls to action in June 2015. As a university, and more generally as part of the public sector, the University of Waterloo is subject to a number of these recommendations. </p>
The TRC aims to educate Canadians on the events that took place during the residential school period. One of the goals of the commission was to determine ways that Canadian institutions can respond to the legacy of residential schools. In the report, a number of calls to action relate specifically to education and its importance in reconciliation. These include calls to decrease the education and employment gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, and to implement degree programs in Aboriginal languages.
A number of Canadian universities have since implemented programs aimed at addressing these calls to action, such as indigenous studies programs, or the University of Guelph’s recent announcement of new grants for aboriginal students and hiring three aboriginal faculty members.
According to Luane Lentz, Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre (WAEC) co-ordinator, the centre has a five-year strategic plan, supported by the deans and provosts, which includes ways to address the TRC’s recommendations.
“In the meantime, we continue to host lectures at the university that are either about topics that concern reconciliation, or by lecturers who are aboriginal and can speak to some of these issues,” Lentz said.
While the university does not have an aboriginal studies program, the university offers an aboriginal business development course and an aboriginal histories course, which saw a 400 per cent enrolment increase this year. Lentz attributes increased popularity of these courses to reconciliation
“I think it’s because people are generally more interested in reconciliation as a concept,” Lentz said.
WAEC’s programs also include community outreach, focused on making aboriginal youth feel more comfortable in a university setting. One such outreach effort is Directions, an annual summer camp at St. Paul’s University College, where high school students stay in residence and attend lectures and workshops to encourage them to consider post-secondary education. WAEC also advises faculty and departments about integrating indigenous knowledge and methodologies.
While Lentz said she appreciates what the university has done so far to address reconciliation, there is still much more that can be done.
“Like most other universities, it can undoubtedly do more to address reconciliation by integrating indigenous knowledge into the curriculum, or by developing culturally appropriate curricula, and the hiring of indigenous professors,” she said. This also includes educating professors, and working to improve education levels and success rates for Aboriginal peoples.
UW still faces challenges in promoting reconciliation, according to Lentz.
“The biggest challenge is awareness of what indigenous culture and education are. At the WAEC, we are here to ensure all students, staff, and faculty know how to access our services and share our stories so we can all understand each other,” she said.
The author of this article is a member of Imprint’s Board of Directors.