Jan. 13, 2024 marked the fourth anniversary of the establishment of UW’s Office of Indigenous Relations (OIR). Founded in 2020, the OIR is a central hub for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students, staff, and allies at UW. Grounded in goals of indigenization and decolonization, the office aims to provide guidance, support, and resources to the UW campus community. The OIR was established as a standalone unit alongside UW’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism following an external review and disbandment of UW’s Office of Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion (HREI).
The OIR is composed of eight Indigenous members who inform the university’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action, build external and internal stakeholder partnerships, and lead special projects on-campus. Jean Becker is Inuk (citizen of Nunatsiavut) and serves as the associate vice-president of the OIR.
On Sept. 22, 2022, Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of UW, acknowledged the university’s full commitment to reconciliation through a formal commitment ceremony at the Ceremonial Fire Grounds at United College. When asked if she thought the office had made the strides she had hoped for and anticipated since this promise of reconciliation, Becker said, “Yes. I feel the university has moved very quickly to address the TRC recommendations, decolonization, and reconciliation.”
Becker went on to explain that the investment in increasing the number of Indigenous faculty and staff positions have been critical elements to advancing the TRC’s Calls to Action. “Indigenization and decolonization are dependent on Indigenous people and Indigenous knowledge. ‘Nothing about us, without us,’” she said. Becker also noted 2024 plans to develop a comprehensive training and education program for UW staff and faculty due to high demand.
Aside from several other projects underway, Becker said she is excited about the construction of an outdoor gathering space in BMH Green (outside the SLC), scheduled for completion by the end of spring 2024, as well as an Indigenous wayfinding project to increase Indigenous visibility on-campus. These initiatives will complement existing projects including the Indigenous Advisory Circle and Indigenous Employee Resource Group to advance changes across campus. The Indigenous Advisory Circle is composed of UW students and faculty who consult on the OIR’s direction and upcoming projects to strengthen Indigenization strategies on-campus, while the Indigenous Employee Resource Group invites all Indigenous employees and retirees to partake in monthly socials, helping to foster Indigenous connection and representation.
The office has also prioritized highlighting groups on-campus focused on supporting Indigenous students. Interested students can visit the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC) at United College or consider joining the Indigenous Student Association (ISA). Nonetheless, the OIR remains open for all Waterloo students, staff, and faculty. “We want students to know that our office is always open to all who have questions, concerns or just want to connect with the Office of Indigenous Relations,” Becker said.
The ISA did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
The OIR remains steadfast in their vision and determination to advance the TRC’s Calls to Action and dismantle structural barriers faced by Indigenous peoples through the launch of the University of Waterloo’s five-year Indigenous Strategic Plan, which hopes to “assist in guiding the University towards its goal of indigenizing and decolonizing the institution.” Becker remarked, “There remains much to be done, but we have a solid foundation to build on.”