Honouring National Indigenous Peoples Day: Stepping up to Learn

Indigenous dancers on beach at RRU with people looking on.

Photo credit: "National Indigenous Peoples Day: The many faces of reconciliation" by BC Gov Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

On June 21, 2021, we mark the 26th anniversary of National Indigenous Peoples Day. As President Steenkamp identified in his address to the University, this year we say mark rather than celebrate because many Indigenous peoples are in mourning — indeed many people across the nation are mourning — following the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children at former Indian Residential Schools across this country now known as Canada. Today and in the future, as we honour the strength and culture of Indigenous Peoples, those of us who do not self-identify as Indigenous can take steps to actively engage in learning, unlearning, and decolonizing actions.

Here are some reflective questions we might ask ourselves in this ongoing work:

  • Have I taken steps to educate myself, for example by reading key documents such as reports from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal PeoplesUNDRIPTRCMMIWGIn Plain Sight?
  • Am I aware and familiar with my own wounds, triggers, fears, and defence mechanisms that might be activated in this work? What steps can I take on my own healing journey? How might I self-regulate when I am feeling triggered myself? How can I respond in the moment and in culturally sensitive ways in my relationships with Indigenous colleagues, students, and friends?
  • Do I understand the difference (and connection) between individual acts versus structural and systemic discrimination, including racism and other forms of oppression?
  • Have I reflected on how and what I first learned about Indigenous people and examined my mental models (preconceived perceptions) about Indigenous people?
  • Have I explored and understand the power imbalances inherent in being non-Indigenous and how I might be perceived, received, and understood by Indigenous people as a result of this and their experiences historically and presently with non-Indigenous people and systems?
  • Have I explored and do I understand the significance of Indigenous people working from a rights-based framework and have I taken the time to learn more about Bill 41 DRIPAUNDRIPSection 35 of the Constitution, the Tsilhqo’tin court decisions and other case law to understand more about Indigenous resistance and resurgence and how these policy contexts might apply to my work /organization?
  • Do I endeavour to keep myself up to date with current affairs related to Indigenous rights, for example through news media such as Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and IndigiNews
  • Do I know how to pronounce the names of the Indigenous Peoples whose lands I’m currently on and do I understand why I acknowledge Indigenous territories? Maps themselves are imperfect and constantly shifting and here’s one place to begin: https://native-land.ca/
  • Have I endeavoured to build authentic relationships with and learn more about the Indigenous Peoples on whose lands I currently live?
  • Do I appreciate the natural and cultural heritage of the lands and waterways near my home? Do I understand how Indigenous peoples have stewarded the lands and waterways for time immemorial and respect how these relationships continue to this day? Do I make time to get outdoors to cherish the natural systems that are surviving or thriving near my home? Do I support the next generation in developing this connection with the land?
  • Am I familiar with my own cultural heritage and the names of the Indigenous peoples on whose lands I was born?
  • Have I given some thought to Murray Sinclair’s four questions: Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? Who am I?
  • How might I integrate the Seven Grandfather Teachings into my work?
  • Have I explored what it means to walk alongside Indigenous people, and why Indigenous people are working to amplify their voices?
  • Finally, the term ally can be controversial, especially in this era of performative activism/allyship. Have I reflected on what it really means to be an ally to Indigenous communities? See also: http://reseaumtlnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Ally_March.pdf  and https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/beyond-red-dress-day-7-calls-to-action-for-indigenous-allies/

We acknowledge that this list of reflective questions emerged from two School of Leadership Studies (SLS) circles (March 29 and April 26, 2021) with Indigenous Alumni, Indigenous Advisory Council members, Indigenous Staff, and current core and associate faculty. Thank you to the many people who contributed their wisdom to compile these questions.

In particular, we would like to extend our gratitude to

  • Christine Webster, whose 2019 Master’s Thesis titled, Traversing Culture and Academy, offered guidance to faculty and staff at RRU
  • Teara Fraser for hosting the two circles in the spring of 2021 that led to these reflective questions
  • Dr. Mike Lickers for his ongoing work as the Indigenous Scholar in Residence in the MA-Leadership program and his former role on the SLS’ Advisory Council
  • All the Indigenous Alumni, including Marcia Turner, Dawn Lindsay-Burns, Charles Ayotte ᓱᐦᑲᐦᒑᐦᑫᐧᐤ, Courtney Defriend, Erin Dixon, and others who participated in the two spring 2021 circles and have shared their wisdom, experiences, and feedback with SLS
  • David Stevenson and Lorelei Higgins for their participation in the March 29, 2021 circle and for their work as members of the SLS Advisory Council, where David is also the Chairperson
  • Lexi (Alexia) McKinnon for her work facilitating circles with LEAD 516 MA-Leadership students and her guidance in centering Indigenous wisdom and decolonizing practice
  • Drs. Susanne Thiessen and Paul Whitinui for their ongoing support and work supervising MA-Leadership thesis students
  • RRU’s Indigenous Leadership Team and members of the Heron People Circle for their ongoing guidance

With humility we acknowledge that reflecting on these questions is only the beginning of a lifelong learning process and a first step on the long road to decolonization.