A Message to UBC Vancouver on behalf of the President and Vancouver Provost
January 17, 2023 – To quote the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan, “Truth before Reconciliation,” all of our actions need to be based on a fundamental commitment to truth, to openness and transparency, and to humility. We know that this has been a difficult three months since the publication of the stories concerning Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. We are deeply concerned that the issues raised and the university’s response have harmed the Indigenous community at UBC and our Indigenous partners outside the University. UBC’s initial response stated that Indigenous identity had not been an explicit requirement for the appointment of the Academic Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. While factually correct, it would have also been understood that it was an implicit expectation. The media reported UBC’s initial statement as constituting support for Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and the silence from UBC about that interpretation has been viewed as confirmation. We deeply regret the impact of this and promise to do more now, and in the future.
Let us state clearly that we recognize our engagement with the Indigenous community has not been adequate or sufficient to date, and we will strive hard to improve. We believe that we should have met more promptly with the UBC Indigenous community. As we note below, we are taking steps to do that now.
Over the past few months our President and Vancouver Provost have had discussions with Indigenous scholars and community members. Our leadership has also discussed the issues that have arisen from this incident with a few university leaders from across Canada. We seek to learn from the experience of others, but we are aware that our approach to the issues of Indigenous identity at UBC will need to be grounded in the protocols and understandings of BC Indigenous peoples and reflect the community values of Indigenous colleagues across our two campuses, while also drawing on important work on these matters by Indigenous scholars across the country.
While we have sought advice, we want to state emphatically that we take full responsibility for the actions and inactions of UBC in this matter. UBC has committed itself to advancing Indigenous scholarship and intellectual community at every level of the University: through the Indigenous Strategic Plan and its implementation, through our relationships with the Musqueam and the Syilx Okanagan Nation, through our commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. All of this has been led by Indigenous colleagues, and it has required a process of building trust. We recognize that recent months have been challenging on this front and we will do all in our power to grow that trust. We want to make it exceedingly clear that UBC’s leadership is more committed than ever to fulfilling the Action Plan of our Indigenous Strategic Plan; to implementing the principles of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and to Indigenizing wherever possible our programs, curricula, leadership and structures.
The possibility that anyone might misrepresent themselves for personal and professional benefit, or that misleading credentials or publications might be submitted for employment, is one that we take extremely seriously, as these kinds of actions undermine the fundamental mission of a university, divert resources from deserving individuals and strengthen inequities. UBC is committed to scholarly integrity: we investigate allegations of misrepresentation and we engage in processes and procedures to address them. Going forward, as we assess our current approaches to hiring and to the role of Indigenous citizenship/status and truthfulness in hiring, we believe it is important to take the time to consider the complex issues and not to make presumptions or predeterminations about where these discussions will take us or what outcome we will arrive at. In the words of Senator Murray Sinclair quoted in our Indigenous Strategic Plan, “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are forced to go the distance.” We will make sure that discussions on these issues are led by the Indigenous community in a fashion of their own choosing.
In the very near future, we will be in touch about setting engagement opportunities for both of us to hear from Indigenous faculty and staff, something we see as central to our accountability. We do not expect this letter to solve any of the problems that we face – we see it as a step along a path towards meaningful action in the future. We will follow up with engagement with Indigenous students, as we are painfully aware of the toll that this has taken on students as well.
Although this message is directed to colleagues at UBC Vancouver, the President along with the Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the UBCO campus will engage with Indigenous faculty and staff at the Okanagan campus.
The UBC Vancouver campus is proud to be located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people, and this relationship inspires us to make our campus one where Indigenous faculty, staff and students feel respected, valued, safe, and heard.
We respectfully acknowledge the Syilx Okanagan Nation and their peoples, in whose traditional, ancestral, unceded territory UBC Okanagan is situated.
Interim President and Vice-Chancellor
Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UBC Vancouver
This article was originally published by the Office of the President.