2014 Implementation Report

In the summer of 2014 the UBC First Nations House of Learning, in conjunction with other units, produced a five-year Aboriginal Strategic Plan Implementation Report for the Vancouver campus addressing the period through the end of June 2014. This report was reviewed by the Aboriginal Strategic Plan Implementation Committee before public release. Below is the text of the body of this report, not including the appendices. Please note that much additional information, including statistics on enrolment, retention, and graduation, and more specific information on faculty and unit initiatives, is included in the appendices. Click below for a printable copy of the full report, including the appendices:


Please note that this is the third implementation report. For the first two, and the text of the Plan itself, please refer to the menu.


JULY 2014


The Aboriginal Strategic Plan was the first part of UBC’s Place and Promise strategic plan to be fully articulated and was accepted as university policy in January 2009. The Plan was designed to provide a comprehensive framework within which existing programs and initiatives could be located and opportunities and imperatives for new initiatives identified. It now provides a framework through which opportunities for collaboration and integration across areas can be better understood.

A major focus of the plan has been sustainability. Historically, Indigenous and similar kinds of initiatives across North America have operated on contingent funding, resulting in a persistent pattern of start-up and collapse. The circumstances they address, however, are persistent, and, in the case of Aboriginal initiatives, increasing in importance. The aim of the UBC Aboriginal Strategic Plan has been to locate programs and initiatives within core budgetary processes, either at their outset, or as soon as their value has been established.

The historical cycles in which Aboriginal programs have collapsed or been eliminated have often been seen as a pragmatic responses to the realities of the economic pressures faced by post- secondary education as a whole. In fact, these cycles are profoundly inefficient because they force the replication of foundational work and inhibit the development of work at more advanced levels. The framework developed at UBC and the integration of Aboriginal programs and initiatives into distributed core budget processes, in contrast, has proved to be effective and efficient, and productive of work at a considerably higher level. It is recognized across North America and internationally as a leading pragmatic and effective approach.

With this approach, UBC programs, rather than relying on benevolence or the redress of past injustices as their primary motivations, have worked to establish approaches that are practical, respectful, and financially sound, and work towards a new standard for addressing the political and social reality of interactions between Aboriginal and other Canadians and their potential for change and growth informed by knowledge, expertise, and reciprocity.

Early in the process of the development of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan an agreement was made that, while the plan would provide a common framework for both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, the two campuses would pursue separate implementation and evaluation processes. This report addresses developments on the Vancouver campus only.

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An early aim of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan implementation on the Vancouver campus was to increase the number of Aboriginal students by addressing issues affecting the quality of their experiences. At the time the Plan was formulated, many Aboriginal students were experiencing significant difficulty in navigating UBC administrative processes that were not designed to address their circumstances. Active recruitment of new students was postponed until these problems were addressed. The most significant obstacles to improvement lay in administrative structure: because Aboriginal students comprise less than 2% of students, their systemic problems often appeared to be idiosyncratic, and their resolutions both difficult and time-consuming. Staff experienced them as frustrations and were often unresponsive and more specific forms of structural address were difficult to bring into focus at the necessary levels for administrative action.

Early in the implementation of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, the First Nations House of Learning began advocating for the dedication of a position to work with knowledgeable staff to identify systemic problems and propose solutions that would report to a high-level implementation committee comprised of the Registrar, the VP Students, and the FNHL Director. The purpose of this committee was to assure that, once a mode of structural address was agreed upon, the necessary authority to implement change, even when it required collaboration across domains, was assured. Though some time was required to implement this system, its efficiency in addressing longstanding problems was clearly demonstrated: structural solutions not only increased efficiency, but reduced the stress level of staff and substantially reduced critical incidents for students and the time necessary for their resolution.

Adjusting the services for Aboriginal students to subsequent and ongoing changes in university- wide student service policies has demonstrated the need to continue with this arrangement and the staff position, now Associate Director of Strategic Aboriginal Enrolment Initiatives, is now permanent. While maintaining effective student services for Aboriginal students in an organization as large as UBC will always be challenging, we now have the means to address challenges as they arise and respond quickly with effective structural solutions. With this system in place, the development of a more deliberate recruitment strategy is both supportable and warranted, and 1.5 Aboriginal recruitment staff positions are now in place.

The Aboriginal Strategic Plan set no enrolment targets. At a research-intensive university such as UBC, setting such targets may have perverse effects: rather than directing attention to the design of effective processes, they focus attention on meeting targets, and often result in stop-gap measures such as reduced enrolment criteria to expand enrolments. If the result is that students who have not had adequate preparation struggle in first year classes and leave the university bear the burden of a failure the university has been at least partially complicit. By working to remove the obstacles for students who are fully prepared for UBC classes, strengthening tutoring and other support services, and working with Faculties to develop more welcoming environments and relevant curricula, UBC Vancouver has seen substantial growth in Aboriginal enrolments across campus, as well as retention and graduation rates similar to those of all students.

Students who may find first year at UBC Vancouver daunting, however, often do very well after two years at another smaller institution such as Langara College. In the fall of 2013, the UBC- Langara Aboriginal Transfer Program was established. Under this program, Aboriginal students meeting a set of requirements are guaranteed transfer admission to the Faculty of Arts at the Vancouver campus. Students meeting a higher standard are guaranteed a scholarship and ongoing support. The Faculty of Science has now joined this program, and other Vancouver Faculties are now working to extend this program to their operations and develop other similar partnerships.

In part due to the expansion of Aboriginal and expert research faculty, enrolments have expanded in graduate and professional programs as well: UBC has now become a preferred institution for graduate students in Indigenous fields from across North America and the Pacific. The Faculty of Education has been working for many years to expand its graduate offerings for Aboriginal students and has a significant contingent of Masters and Doctoral students as well as an expanding set of curricular options addressing Aboriginal education. The Faculty of Law has also had a longstanding program in Indigenous Legal Studies that has both a curricular component and consistently high Aboriginal enrolments, now the largest in Canada. Law has also taken significant steps towards addressing the climate for Aboriginal students in the Faculty, about which more will be said below. For more than ten years, the Department of Family Practice in the Faculty of Medicine has had the most successful program in Canada for recruiting and graduating Aboriginal MDs, and other disciplines in the health sciences are now considering ways to extend that model in their areas. Other Faculties, such as Arts and Applied Sciences have shown significant growth in their Aboriginal graduate enrolments, in part in response to the development of curricular initiatives. These developments are crucial to UBC’s contribution to the production of the next generation of Aboriginal scholars and professionals and others knowledgeable in relevant fields.

It is important to recognize that, though much progress has been made on campus, Aboriginal students and community members still face challenging circumstances here and in a larger social context in which difficult situations are common. In the fall of 2013 during first-year orientation events, a number of students in the Sauder School of Business engaged in chants that promoted sexual violence and disregard for Aboriginal people and culture. These events were widely publicized, and the university moved quickly to address these incidents and is now working on longer-term modes of address to provide not only more meaningful orientation to the culture and values of the campus, but deeper address of the social circumstances that have normalized such activities for far too long. Reaction to these highly publicized events in Aboriginal communities, however, was strong, and an indication that, while we work to build substantive address of these and other issues on campus, the confidence we build with communities is easily compromised.

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Another stated aim of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan was to expand curricula addressing Aboriginal culture, history, politics, and other areas, and, in the past five years, curricular options available to students has indeed expanded significantly. The First Nations Studies Program, still in its start-up phase when the Plan began, has now expanded in its faculty complement, curricular offerings, and enrolments, and is now both robust and stable. The First Nations Languages Program, also in the Faculty of Arts, has recently tripled its faculty and is also now sustainable. Together, these two programs are exploring the formation of a joint Institute that would provide a stronger platform for their operations, their support of post-doctoral fellows and graduate students, and their partnerships with other curricular units across campus. The growth of strength in Aboriginal languages stabilization and recovery in Arts and Education directly addresses a priority identified in the Plan.

The Faculty of Education is recognized both in Canada and the Pacific for its work in Indigenous education. The Faculty operates one of the oldest training programs for Aboriginal educators, the Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP), and is the only Faculty at UBC and the only Faculty of Education in Canada to have an Associate Dean for Aboriginal initiatives. The Faculty designated 2013/14 the Year of Indigenous Education, with over thirty two special events, and during this year established a Professorship in Indigenous Teacher Education. The Faculty has also expanded curricular offerings at both undergraduate and graduate levels and is increasing its attention to Indigenous language education. An M.Ed. with an emphasis in Indigenous Knowledges & Pedagogies has been established, and the Faculty is among the first in Canada to require all undergraduate students to complete a course in Aboriginal education.

The Faculty of Law now also requires all students to complete curricula in Aboriginal constitutional law. The possibility of other required courses addressing Aboriginal concerns are under discussion in other locations as well. Required courses, while addressing the critical need to provide students with information and analysis they have not typically developed in their pre- university education, are, however, measures that must be undertaken with some care. By their very nature contentious, they require experienced instructors with expertise in managing the difficult classroom conversations, and it is particularly important to assess the staffing resources available as such requirements are considered.

In the early days of the Aboriginal Strategic plan, the experiences of Aboriginal and other students of classroom discussions that did become contentious had been clearly identified by a student documentary video project, What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom (https://intheclass.arts.ubc.ca). A staff position was piloted in what is now the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology to provide professional development for instructors and especially teaching assistants who wish to develop more professional approaches to those circumstances. That position has subsequently become permanent and is perhaps the only of its kind in Canada to work with experienced faculty, provide training to others, and develop resources, especially in the digital realm, that can assist faculty in supporting meaningful address of Aboriginal issues. Both the approach and the digital resources are now used at other universities across Canada. CTLT was a lead unit in engaging faculty and students in events surrounding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Event in Vancouver in September 2013, and now also includes Aboriginal topics in the training available to new administrators. These programs are important aspects of UBC’s ability to build depth and capacity across the university to improve the curriculum available to all students, as are other recent developments, such as the Faculty of Education’s entry into the realm of Massive Open Online Courses, that extend UBC’s presence in the digital realm.

Other significant curricular initiatives are also continuing or developing in other faculties. Forestry has long had a First Nations Forestry program as well as a First Nations Council of Advisors. For many years it has also had a dedicated faculty position, now Professor of Indigenous and Community Forestry, and other faculty members have been recognized for their work with communities and engagement of students with community-based curricula. At the writing of the last Implementation Report (2012), the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) was just launching a First Nations curricular concentration in its masters program. That program, co- developed with the Musqueam Indian Band, will be graduating its first cohort in the fall of 2014 and is now attracting students from across Canada and is attracting inquiries from as far away as Australia. Other Faculties such as Pharmacy and schools such as Audiology, now in conjunction with the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous health described below, are also intensifying the curriculum that prepares their students to work with Aboriginal people and communities. These developments, and especially the development of curricular initiatives taught in and/or co- developed with communities, beginning with NITEP and extending through FNSP, SCARP, and other developing initiatives, demonstrate the potential for more responsive and informed curricula.

In response to UBC’s extensive involvement in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Event in Vancouver in September 2013 and UBC’s development of a proposal to establish a Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, about which more will be said below, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture posed as its design challenge for the Core Comprehensive Studio required of all MA students in Architecture the design of such a centre. The results were stunning, but at least as impressive was the work of students and professors to develop and integrate an understanding of the core issues involved in Indian residential school history in their designs: their accounts of their thinking and processes were as eloquent as their designs and demonstrate the ways in which consideration of Aboriginal issues may be integrated in technical and other curricular areas where there immediate relevance is less obvious.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, the Sauder School of Business conducted an extensive review of its Aboriginal programs. In previous years, the major Aboriginal initiative at Sauder has been the Ch’nook program, a program that concentrated primarily on non-degree professional development for Aboriginal business professionals and on scholarship and networking programs for students, mostly at other institutions. One outcome of this review will be the gradual introduction of curricula more directly focused on Aboriginal business and business in Aboriginal contexts, and strengthened recruitment and support for Aboriginal students at Sauder. Efforts are also underway to increase curricula in the School of Social Work, which, for the first time in 2013, conducted its orientation for all students on the Musqueam reserve. A grant from the Peter Wall Institute also brought a number of Indigenous scholars from four countries, many from social work, to campus for a week-long intensive conference on improving Indigenous representation in curricula and institutional practice.

Initially established as a repository for community-contributed materials, the Xwi7xwa Library adjacent to the First Nations Longhouse on the Vancouver campus is the only branch of a university library in Canada dedicated to Indigenous holdings. Over the past two years, Xwi7xwa has conducted an extensive review of its operations and will be refocusing its limited resources on high-value uses of its research and instructional expertise and its potential to be a centre for Aboriginal intellectual life on campus. The high value of Xwi7xwa expertise in managing and navigating the complex and often counter-intuitive structure of information crucial to Indigenous instruction and research is unique to UBC, and is particularly important to curricular initiatives such as the First Nations concentration in the iSchool (School of Archival, Library, and Information Studies), one of the few programs in North America providing expert training in addressing Indigenous professional, organizational, and community needs for information management. The increased demands on Xwi7xwa are a very positive sign of the growth of high-level academic Indigenous initiatives on campus, but also evidence that they now require additional support.

Many curricular areas at UBC are now, of course, participating in the globalization of information, knowledge, and instruction. In this climate, it might at first appear that initiatives tied to local knowledge, such as those focused on Aboriginal concerns in BC or Canada, occupy an increasingly narrow and specialized space. A more inflected view of globalization, however, soon confronts the reality that all globalized activity is always specific and local, even if the local is, for people moving globally, always changing. This is a circumstance addressed best not by a homogenization of thought, but the development of the capacity to understand the complexity and depth of the local, and form meaningful and informed relations within it: skills that are indeed transferrable, and are of exceptionally high value. Understanding the deep roots of Aboriginal history at UBC, in Vancouver and in BC, and how the complex currents of contemporary politics surrounding culture, land, and authority work here, not only invests students in a sense of place, but a depth of understanding in how to think about culture, complexity, and interaction that will serve them well wherever they go and be a hallmark of the very advanced thinking that has informed their time at UBC.

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Research on Indigenous topics, and especially topics of high value for First Nations and Aboriginal communities and organizations, has been conducted in many academic programs and departments across UBC for many years. This research is funded through a variety of means and is conducted by both faculty and student researchers, and for these reasons, it is difficult to ascertain just how many projects with Aboriginal focus are underway at any given time. It is certainly the case that many interesting research projects have become more visible since the Aboriginal Strategic Plan has begun, and stories on many of them have been collected on the UBC Aboriginal Portal (https://aboriginal.ubc.ca).

Since its inception it has, however, been an aim of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan to bring greater attention to a specific type of research that is of particularly high value in this area. Community- based research (CBR) is a type of research that operates through a fundamentally different set of relationships and principles than traditional research, though it often uses the same technical procedures and methods. It is distinguished by the ways in which research questions are set, projects designed and conducted, and results produced and disseminated. Rather than beginning with a research question that researchers then take “into the field” for implementation, community-based research typically begins either with the identification of a research need by a community or organization, or with a conversation in which researchers and community partners work together to define a question. It then progresses through a collaborative process of design and implementation, delivering, at its conclusion, results that are useful to the community or organization, while also satisfying to researchers’ intellectual and professional interests and contributing to knowledge in its field.

Community-based research is of particular interest to Aboriginal communities and organizations that have been subject to exploitative research practices in the past (recent disclosures of university research on Indian residential school students offer particularly egregious examples), but collaborative design has other benefits as well, including accelerated timeframes resulting from cooperation with otherwise reluctant communities, and attention to research questions and that otherwise might not have been identified. One example is the Cedar Project, a long-running CIHR-sponsored research project co-directed by UBC researcher Dr. Patricia Spittal and Chief Wayne Christian of the Splatsin First Nation. This collaborative project provides valuable insights on HIV-AIDS among Aboriginal youth in BC and methods of harm reduction, and would most certainly not be possible without close collaboration between university and community partners.

As community-based research has emerged as a practice and begun to attract dedicated funding, researchers have often been working at a disadvantage in a system of evaluation and reward structured around older research models. After several years of preliminary discussions, the UBC Vice President, Research and International, appointed a Task Force to develop recommendations for the better understanding and support of community-based research. Subsequent to the delivery of that report, an implementation committee was established, and a set of initiatives supporting community-based research is now in active development. These developments are of significant benefit to many Indigenous researchers and others working with Aboriginal communities and will promote better and more innovative research meeting community needs.

Not all community-based research is the province of faculty, advanced graduate, and post- graduate researchers. Curricular units such as the First Nations Studies Program at the undergraduate level and the First Nations concentrations in the iSchool and School of Community and Regional Planning are built around student conduct of community-based research practica. Concentration on community-based research assures that graduates of such programs have acquired not only the intellectual and technical skills of their disciplines, but the strategic skills and capacities to negotiate and implement projects in challenging off-site environments. It assures that curricula prepare students both theoretically and practically for the work that will shape their professional careers, and it provides communities and organizations with ways to better understand the potential of university research and the value it may bring to their circumstances. Along with innovations in the use of technology, in which UBC Aboriginal programs have been leaders, community-based research at the undergraduate level is at the leading edge of new models of learning and instruction, not just for Indigenous studies, but for their potential application in other areas of study. By responding to a need for connection, they are at the forefront of defining education in a more connected future.

Attention to these new initiatives, of course, should not detract from the many forms of research, and, indeed, community-based research that have been operating for years in Faculties as diverse as Arts, Medicine, Forestry, and Applied Science. More information on some of these projects is included in Appendix C.

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A major aim of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan has been to strengthen the cohort of Indigenous faculty and other expert faculty in areas of concern to Aboriginal students and communities. To this end, several hiring initiatives have been undertaken by programs and Faculties, often in partnership with the central administration (Academic Affairs). Notable gains in the concentration of Indigenous tenured / tenure-track faculty have been made in the Faculties of Education and Arts in particular. Most recently the Faculty of Science has hired an Aboriginal Instructor in Math, and the Faculty of Law, in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts, have hired an Aboriginal Assistant Professor in Law and First Nations Studies. In addition, Indigenous scholars have at times been hired through search processes outside of such initiatives. Twenty four self-identified Canadian Aboriginal or American Indian tenured / tenure-track research faculty now work at UBC’s Vancouver campus—one of the largest cohorts at a research-intensive university in North America—and several more work on an ongoing basis on other types of faculty appointments. Since the inauguration of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, other faculty experts in Indigenous areas have also joined UBC. Most recently the Faculty of Arts has added two additional professorial appointments in First Nations Languages. UBC’s strength in Indigenous research and scholarship is now widely recognized, and many of its scholars are well known nationally and internationally. The presence of this community of scholars across disciplines is a considerable asset in attracting others, and certainly in recruiting graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who see a context for their work here that exists in few other places.

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One of the last parts of the Place and Promise plan to fully take shape has been the Community strategy, but it has, of course, been a central component of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan from the outset, and takes many forms. Many relations with communities and organizations operate through collaborative research relationships and curricular initiatives, as noted above. Others operate through projects to coordinate or deliver services or exchange information. One noteworthy example are the Learning Circles operated for years by Family Practice in the Faculty of Medicine and now by the newly-formed Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health in partnership with the First Nations Health Authority. This project links more than seventy First Nations communities by video conference and webinar technologies at least twice a month to exchange information on topics of interest in Aboriginal health. These and other such projects are important ways of meeting community needs, and of assuring that community perspectives are solidly in focus for university scholars, practitioners, and strategists.

These newer initiatives also take shape in the context of very long engagements. MOA (the Museum of Anthropology) is known internationally for its holding of Northwest Coast Aboriginal materials, and it brings thousands of visitors every year to campus. Less widely known, however, is its local and international reputation for leading work in community partnerships—an area in which it has led the reformation of museum and university practice. Particularly since its recent redesign and flagship Partnership of Peoples project that links museums and their holdings worldwide with Aboriginal communities, MOA has not only stood for reciprocal relations with communities, but provided an opportunity to develop the capacity of generations of students, scholars, and museum professionals to better understand this approach. It is crucial that as MOA and the university continue to evolve, these critical functions continue to develop with requisite support.

UBC has for many years operated programs to engage community youth. Some of those programs are run in community locations, and others bring youth on campus for programming and internship opportunities. The alumni of some, such as the Native Youth Program hosted by the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), now occupy leadership positions in community organizations. Others, such as the recently established Emerging Scholars program, jointly developed by the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Science and the First Nations House of Learning, prepare secondary students for advanced study at the university. In past years, these programs have operated autonomously, with little collaboration or integration. Recently, promising discussions surrounding shared programing, shared resources, and laddering of participants have begun to move towards greater integration.

The Vancouver campus’s relationship with its host community, the Musqueam Indian Band, has also deepened through the first five years of the Plan. Several key programs, such as the Musqueam 101 program run jointly with the Faculty of Arts, the community-based language program that the First Nations Languages Program teaches in the community for credit to community members and university students, and the Archaeological field school have been operating for many years. Other newer initiatives, such as the collaboratively-developed First Nations concentration in the School of Community and Regional Planning are recent and still developing. UBC programs such as Social Work and Law are conducting more programming events for students in the new facilities at Musqueam, and Musqueam territory is increasingly acknowledged at events on campus.

In recent years a new set of physical markers also acknowledge Musqueam history on the Vancouver campus, and more are under discussion. Most notable are the large carving of the Musqueam historical leader qíyəplènəxw (Capilano) on the north side of Allard Hall, the new home of the Faculty of Law. This figure acknowledges the location of Allard Hall in an area that was a strategic encampment under the direction of qíyəplènəxw at the time of first contact with Europeans as well as the engagement of the Faculty of Law in important Musqueam and other First Nations legal cases. The use of this carving and attendant Musqueam presence in the Faculty of Law’s orientation for new students locates that Faculty at the forefront of university practice establishing frameworks for new students’ respectful engagement with the university community—particularly important given incidents during the 2013 orientation that the university is still working to address.

Towards the south end of campus, two new dormitories in the Totem Park complex have been given Musqueam names, həm̓ləsəm̓ House and q̓ələχən House. Both names are tied to stories and the landscape that is now the campus. The naming is, of course, significant in that these are the first names given by a community in a complex that has had English (and in some cases erroneous) names of First Nations on buildings for more than thirty years. Those buildings now have explanatory materials on the communities they are named for, as well as the process through which they were named, and students in the two new dorms know the proper pronunciation and stories that accompany the names of their buildings and have the pride of a deeper connection to the area in which they study.

Initiatives are now underway to develop more comprehensive histories of the Aboriginal landmarks on the Vancouver campus, and work has begun on a mobile application that will provide location-specific information to people as they tour the campus. This kind of innovative extension of engagement with place, community, and history has been largely developed by students of programs such as First Nations Studies and First Nations Languages that not only provide students with content, but with the strategic capacity and community-based skills to bridge the campus/community divide. They are also key and leading elements of UBC’s capacity to establish deep and meaningful relationships between the global and local, as noted above.

As these initiatives on campus work to affirm the Indigenous history of this area, other partnerships developed here work to preserve history in communities. The Indigitization project begun by the IK Barber Learning Centre and the First Nations Technology Council and supported by MOA (The Museum of Anthropology), for instance, works with a growing number of community partners to develop the means to digitally preserve community records. They form another key part of efforts to sustain and strengthen communities, culture, and language.

Finally, it is important to note that Faculties such as the Faculty of Forestry and programs such as the Native Indian Teacher Education Program in the Faculty of Education have community-based advisory boards. At the university level, the President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs also meets three times a year to provide valuable advice on the direction of developments on the Vancouver campus and review progress made on the Aboriginal Strategic Plan. The university has benefited from the advice and combined expertise and experience of the members, and meetings have been attended regularly by the Provost, Vice Provost Academic, and the President, resulting in discussions that have been detailed, substantive, and productive. As will be further noted below here, the Aboriginal Strategic Plan has been as successful as it has because, in many ways and through many avenues, it is a set of partnerships and relationships that are constantly renewed and enacted in ongoing exchanges.

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In the first five years of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, considerable effort has gone into the growth and stabilization of core individual programs and initiatives across campus and into bringing the variety and extent of work being done into focus. In the past two years, as programs and initiatives became stronger and more stable, it has been possible to think more deliberately about the potential for their interaction and larger patterns of integration. The emergence of the First Nations concentration in Community and Regional Planning, for instance, now provides the occasion for thinking about the ways in which concentrations in business, resource development, governance, health, and law might be coordinated to provide more integrated approaches to community development. As this first phase of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan has moved towards completion, two major initiatives have also been developed that have further extended these possibilities.

The Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health

Some years ago, faculty and staff in the Faculty of Medicine began developing a proposal for a centre at UBC based in part on their familiarity with the Center for American Indian Health at Johns Hopkins University. Contemporaneously, discussions about closer relationships among Faculties and units in the health sciences at UBC entered a very active phase. After considerable further discussion, the centre proposal and the committee developing it were expanded to have a greater cross-disciplinary reach. Also simultaneous with this process was the establishment of the First Nations Health Authority in BC that created an even more pressing need for a clear focal point for Indigenous initiatives at the university. In winter 2012-2013 a draft proposal for a centre was completed and taken for consultation to Faculty and program meetings and to the forming Health Authority and other community organizations. In the fall of 2013, a revised proposal was then approved by the Vancouver campus Faculty Senate, and later by the Board of Governors, and the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health established on 1 January 2014. The Centre, located in the School of Public and Population Health, provides a means for greater coordination of research, and especially collaborative research, for extending successful programs recruiting and supporting students in some areas to others, and developing specialized training in Indigenous health and curricula increasing the competence of all health professionals in working with Aboriginal individuals and communities.

Establishing this Centre was a long and arduous process that, at times, involved some very contentious discussions, especially surrounding the migration of programs from the Institute for Aboriginal Health, which the Centre largely supersedes, to the Centre and other locations, but the result is a better defined, better supported, and more strategically located platform for Indigenous health than has previously been available at UBC.

Truth and Reconciliation Initiatives

In the past ten years, a set of processes on the local and national levels has brought greater public awareness of the history of the Indian residential school system that existed in Canada from the later nineteenth century through the closing years of the twentieth century. In this system, which for much of its history forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their families, often for years, many students suffered serious abuse and many died. In 2008 a court-ordered settlement to the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history, brought by former students against the government of Canada and the churches who operated the schools, established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a mandate to gather testimony and records and administer other aspects of the settlement. The settlement also mandated the establishment of a National Research Centre to preserve Commission and school records and inform future generations about the schools and what happened in them. Also during this period the Prime Minister delivered an apology to former students on behalf of the government for the abuses students suffered and for the policy of assimilation that the schools enacted.

Because the history of the Indian residential schools and the systemic nature of the abuses suffered by the children who attended them are so well documented, understanding some of that history opens a way for many people to understand the larger patterns of interaction that have structured the relationships between Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society more generally. On the Vancouver campus at UBC, sharing this history more widely has proven to be a significant opportunity to think about the larger social and institutional issues we face as a society and the opportunities to address them identified in the Aboriginal Strategic Plan.

On November 1, 2011, the First Nations House of Learning, in collaboration with the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, hosted a day-long intensive exploration of Indian residential school history and its effects. Approximately two hundred campus leaders and community members attended and heard from academic experts, former residential school students and their families about the devastating effects the schools had on the lives of students and their communities. They also heard about the ways in which understanding the history and its effects have given faculty, students, and community partners a way to understand present circumstances and think more realistically and productively about their work and a way forward, and about developing the skills and capacities for more effective dialogues, negotiations, and the relations that will structure the future. The day helped to establish a direction for more informed discussions of Aboriginal initiatives on campus and thoughtful planning.

As national discussions began to move forward to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Research Centre, the Commission began planning for the last National Events it would hold on the west coast, in Vancouver in September 2013. At UBC, students, faculty, staff, and administrators on the Vancouver campus began to think about the ways in which UBC might play a role in both of these circumstances further raise awareness of Aboriginal issues and people on campus. A group of faculty and staff began putting together a proposal for UBC’s involvement in the National Research Centre, and a wider group began to plan for UBC’s involvement in the National Event.

After months of preparation that included faculty volunteer presentations in many department and Faculty meetings and planning by student groups and others, UBC’s engagement with the National Event in September 2013 was extensive. UBC was the first university and only research- intensive university to take the unprecedented step of suspending classes for the first day of such an event so that students and faculty could attend and be part of this history, and many did. Two major exhibitions reflecting on residential school history were opened on campus, and many other discussions, presentations, and workshops, were held. Many faculty members across disciplines took time to work with their students to learn and reflect on the significance of the event. Many also questioned why they knew so little and observed that understanding something of this history was the first time in their lives that they had a context for thinking about the kinds of Aboriginal issues that they otherwise only intermittently heard about through newspapers and other media.

As these events were transpiring, faculty and staff at UBC decided not to contest the very strong bid being made by the University of Manitoba to house the National Research Centre, but to propose instead that UBC establish a west coast centre, affiliated with the national centre, on the Vancouver campus. This Centre would be a resource for former Indian residential school students and their families and communities by providing access to records and would support research and scholarship on residential school history and related matters. It would also be a centre for the development and delivery of public information and curricula on Indian residential school history and a way for many people to better understand the circumstances of the present. Finally, it would be a dialogue centre for advanced and ongoing discussions among academic experts from many disciplines and community members about the ways in which a better understanding about our shared history can shape our thinking about our shared future.

In his speech at the TRC National Event, UBC President Stephen Toope spoke of our aspiration to establish such a centre to a very enthusiastic crowd. A proposal was developed and given preliminary approval, and fundraising has begun and is now more than half-way towards a sustainable goal. This centre, if established, has the potential to significantly accelerate the ways in which all UBC students and others can develop an understanding of Aboriginal history that informs their advanced and field-specific study. It has the potential to bring together scholars from many domains including archival and information studies, history, politics, languages, health disciplines, computer science, and many others, into productive cross-disciplinary discussions, and to further develop interactions between the campus and communities. In addition, because Aboriginal programs at UBC have always been at the forefront of uses of interactive technology, the Centre can be a primary opportunity for thinking about the ways in which interactive technology can be used to help people grasp complex information quickly, deliberately, and intuitively. Like the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, by bringing together diverse specialties into a common conversation, it has the potential to create unprecedented levels of strength, functionality, and advanced thought.

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One of the challenges identified in discussions with the President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has been the imaginative lifespan of strategic initiatives in institutional awareness. Strategic initiatives are most typically regarded as periods of focused attention to particular issues to accelerate development before attention is redirected elsewhere. The Aboriginal Strategic Plan, however, was designed from the outset to address a longstanding and difficult social history, address a persistent institutional deficit, and set in motion different ways of thinking about our institutional role in a new paradigm in which advanced thought could form.

The Plan lays out a framework through which truly healthy and sustainable relationships between higher education and Aboriginal people and communities in Canada can be realized. As our graduates leave with the skills, strategies, information, and partnerships they have formed here, they take the knowledge of what is possible and how it can be achieved with them.

Though considerable progress has been made in the first five years of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, that larger aim requires persistent and sustained work that extends the work of this period into the future and assures that it continues and evolves. The two major initiatives just described are perhaps the most visible ways in which that work may be extended over coming years, but they are by no means the only ways. The design of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan—to encourage and extend work done across the university and embedded in many units—requires persistent attention, focus on those points of strength, but also the ongoing identification of those areas in which progress has not, to date, been fully realized, as in the recent review of Aboriginal programs in the Sauder School of Business has done, and as similar reviews in other areas have yet to do, and as the events of the 2013 student orientation have reminded us.

The level of activity on campus in the past five years has been truly exceptional and UBC is now recognized as a leading institution in Indigenous engagement in North America and internationally, and yet there is much to be done. Though the UBC has successfully conducted the largest university fundraising campaign in Canadian history, Aboriginal programs and initiatives have attracted very modest support. We continue to work towards the day in which the reasons for that support is clearly in the minds of our partners and advocates, and UBC’s work in this area is more clearly recognized as an essential part of what distinguishes the university.

Progress on the Aboriginal Strategic Plan has been the result of partnerships—partnerships between university scholars, researchers, teachers, and students and Aboriginal communities and organizations and between the university and community leaders such as the members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. It has also succeeded through the partnership of Aboriginal people, faculty and staff at the university, and others in Faculties, programs, and other units, and the very strong partnership between Aboriginal faculty and staff and the central administration, and especially President Toope, Provost David Farrar, and Vice Provost Anna Kindler, with whom the initiative to form the Plan began. In the normal course of time and change, professors Toope and Kindler are moving on to other responsibilities and opportunities, but the framework that they, with others, have established has been built to endure and to provide the basis for continued growth and progress.

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To see Appendices, click here to download full pdf version.