In September 2010 the UBC Vancouver Aboriginal Strategic Plan Implementation Committee produced an Implementation Report outlining the progress made under the Plan. Below is the text of the body of this report. Click here for a printable copy of the full report, including extensive appendices:
2010 IMPLEMENTATION REPORT & APPENDICES (PDF DOWNLOAD)
The Aboriginal Strategic Plan, accepted by the President in January 2009, was developed through extensive consultation to provide a framework for Aboriginal programs and initiatives at the University. In the past year-and-a-half considerable progress has been made and UBC has become more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal students and communities and better able to provide curricula and expertise on Aboriginal issues. This report provides an account of the progress made to date.
One of the most important indicators of the success of the Plan is the increase of Aboriginal student enrolment at the University. Due to the limitations of historical data on Aboriginal enrolment at UBC and the complexities of monitoring and tracking progress, the goals have been the development of a plan for the collection and use of data and the establishment of a baseline enrolment figure against which future progress can be measured. Any data based on self-identification has inherent limitations, but the most reliable data available indicate that in fall of 2008 (the most recent year for which this information is available) 630 students had been identified as Aboriginal: 505 undergraduate and 125 graduate students. There are strong indications that these numbers, not only for admissions, but graduations, are increasing. The First Nations House of Learning identified over 100 Aboriginal graduates in all degree areas for the first time in 2009, and over 120 in 2010. Among them were undergraduate degrees (BA, BSc), graduate degrees (MA, PhD), and degrees in professional programs (Law, Medicine, etc.).
The University recognizes that recruiting Aboriginal students is only the first step; comprehensive student services and supports are essential for students to reach their full academic potential. As such, since the introduction of the Strategic Plan services have been reviewed and where necessary changes have been made: student spaces and services at the Longhouses have been redesigned, services across campus have been integrated, a new position, Coordinator of Strategic Aboriginal Initiatives, has been introduced at Brock Hall, and much more.
The hiring of Indigenous faculty members is core to progress being made in Aboriginal education and since the Strategic Plan process began, the university has almost doubled the number of tenure-track Indigenous professors with nine recent hires across four faculties. These new faculty members will add to the considerable Aboriginal-focused research already underway at UBC. Under the Strategic Plan 120 researchers were brought together for a preliminary research colloquium. Much of their research has been community based and has resulted in substantial community engagement.
Another way that UBC is reaching community is through public programming such as the Belkin Art Gallery’s Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in. This type of programming is not simply about showcasing Aboriginal culture or issues, but about collaboration between UBC and Aboriginal communities in a way that challenges traditional museum, gallery, and university practice.
A major focus of the Plan is pre-university recruitment and access initiatives. Many faculties and programs have a long history of outreach such as the Native Youth Program at MOA, CEDAR, and Bridge Through Sport. In the past year changes have been made to allow for a more integrated approach to outreach and funding for some programs has been secured on an ongoing basis. This work will continue to be a focus in the coming year.
In developing the Strategic Plan, the decision was made not to rely on a central fund for Aboriginal initiatives, but rather to encourage the integration of funding for Aboriginal initiatives into core budgets of individual units. At the same time, central administration has directed resources towards centralized initiatives and faculty hiring. The formation of an integrated university-wide development strategy for Aboriginal initiatives is now well underway and is expected to result in increased funding from private sources. The changes being made under the Strategic Plan should also make UBC a more attractive location for grant-funded research.
While much has been done to date, the efforts in many cases have been directed to laying the groundwork for the significant progress that will be made over the next year and beyond: student services will now be delivered more effectively, researchers brought together more consistently, and units across the university will now operate with a better understanding of the work needed. Over the coming year we expect to reach more youth, retain more students, engage more researchers in exciting collaborative projects, and see the university working closely with more Aboriginal communities across the province.
Metrics and Benchmarks
Because UBC is a very large institution and the Aboriginal Strategic Plan is a comprehensive framework, it is very challenging to give a full account of our progress, but below are some items selected from the report that indicate the kind of progress we are making in some key areas:
Increase in the number of Indigenous tenure-track faculty members:
- 2001/2002 – 6
- 2007/2008 – 11
- 2009/2010 – 21
New staff positions created and filled under the Plan:
- Aboriginal Counsellor in Counselling Services
- Research and Communications Officer in the First Nations House of Learning
- Coordinator of Strategic Aboriginal Initiatives in the VP Students portfolio
- Coordinator of Aboriginal Initiatives added in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Increase in Aboriginal Student Graduation (all degree categories, including graduate and professional):
- 2001/02 – 67 Students
- 2007/08 – 84 Students
- 2009/10 – 120 Students
Aboriginal Student Enrolment Baseline (Fall 2008):
- Undergraduate: 505 Students
- Graduate: 125 Students
- Total: 630 Students
Aboriginal Enrolment Highlights:
- The Faculty of Law reports 22 Aboriginal students entering in Fall of 2010, for a total of 54 current Aboriginal students—a new record for UBC, and possibly for any law school in Canada.
- The Faculty of Graduate Studies reports that applications and overall enrolment of students that identified as Aboriginal continued their upward trend in 2010. Since 2008, applications have increased by 41.8% overall, and enrolments by 16.8% overall.
- The Arts Faculty reports 33 enrolled graduate students, a significant increase over previous years (exact numbers for previous years not available).
Aboriginal Courses and Curriculum Highlights:
- Since 2008/2009, at least 13 courses with significant Aboriginal content have been added to the UBC Calendar.
- Three new Aboriginal languages have been taught in collaboration with communities, and a new collaborative course in Cree with an urban organization has been developed. Enrollment in courses for UBC students and community members taught on the Musqueam reserve is now at record and sustainable numbers.
ABORIGINAL STRATEGIC PLAN
UBC acknowledges its responsibilities to improve opportunities for Aboriginal students in its programs at every level, to develop expertise in research and teaching that can address the gaps in public education and information on Aboriginal issues and contribute to more functional social dialogues, and to develop collaborative relationships with Aboriginal communities that promote common goals. The Aboriginal Strategic Plan was developed to provide a framework for progress in all of these areas.
The Aboriginal Strategic Plan (ASP) was formed through a two-year process involving extensive on and off-campus consultations, and was accepted by the President in January 2009 as the first completed part of Place and Promise, the new strategic plan for the university. The ASP is a plan for the entire university, but is implemented separately on the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. The implementation of the ASP on the Vancouver campuses has resulted in the formation of two committees, the internal ASP Implementation Committee, and the external President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, UBC Vancouver, comprised of Aboriginal community members. The following is the first summary report on the implementation of the Plan.
This report provides an account of some of the major areas of activity that have developed under the plan. For this reason, while it does attempt to give some sense of the general array of Aboriginal programs at UBC Vancouver, it is primarily an account of newer activity and changes that have taken place since the formation and implementation of the plan began. It is by no means fully inclusive of all activity related to Aboriginal programs, and it is important to note that there are many long-standing Aboriginal programs at UBC that are not its primary focus. The difficulty of capturing all the activity taking place at UBC Vancouver is a welcome result: from the outset, the Plan has been designed to provide a framework for the many forms of action taken in individual units on the initiative of faculty and staff in their areas, without central direction. Additional information, including statistics and summary unit reports, is found in appendices.
Because of differences in the way in which data have been collected, identifying reliable baseline information on Aboriginal enrolments is challenging and trends are hard to determine with complete confidence. A major initiative of the ASP is to improve our collection and use of data and provide a more complete analysis of historical data. Partially because categories of Indigenous identity are fluid, some of the issues may never be fully resolved. Appendix A provides a more complete description of these challenges and of the available data.
At present, we consider the most reliable data to be based on student self-identification supplemented by identification available through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development Student Transitions Project (STP): self-identification figures gathered internally produce a lower number. The most recent data from the STP is from 2008 and the combined result from that year indicates that 630 Aboriginal students were enrolled at UBC Vancouver in fall of 2008, with 20% of those being graduate students. This represents about 1.4% of the total student body. In the last year, a total of at least 120 self-identified Aboriginal students received degrees from UBC Vancouver, a substantial increase over the year before, which itself had been a landmark in, for the first time, awarding more than a hundred degrees.
While UBC Vancouver has an Aboriginal admissions process for students who do not meet the competitive admissions criteria, most Aboriginal students enroll at UBC through regular processes. The success rate of students admitted through Aboriginal admissions is under review. Some Faculties have dedicated seats for Aboriginal students: Medicine, for instance, maintains a separate, though highly competitive, cohort admissions process and offers well-organized student support. Based on the success of this model, other programs in the health disciplines are considering similar programs. Law and Education also actively recruit Aboriginal students. Dedicated funding for Aboriginal students exists at UBC, but in relatively small proportions. Several individual scholarships are available and administered centrally, and some are tied to specific faculties. The Arts Faculty recently created a small number of scholarships for Aboriginal undergraduate students.
Graduate student admissions occurs through a different set of processes, and the active recruitment of graduate students typically falls to individual departments, with the Faculty of Graduate Studies playing a role in general outreach and application support. The newly established Aboriginal Coordinator in the Faculty of Graduate Studies has fielded inquiries from dozens of prospective and current students from across Canada and the U.S. and assisted them with tasks such as identifying appropriate programs, research supervisors and funding sources. The UBC policy on admission eligibility for graduate programs has also been revised to better define a broad-based admissions approach for Aboriginal and other applicants and to encourage Aboriginal students to apply.
Since research universities compete with others for top graduate students, graduate student funding is an important issue and a substantial challenge generally for UBC. In recent years due in part to economic events, graduate funding has been especially challenging. The Faculty of Graduate Studies, in conjunction with the Provost’s Office, has increased and targeted some of the graduate funding for Aboriginal students, and has encouraged faculties and departments to do the same. Some faculties, notably Education, Arts, and Science, have made additional recruiting resources available to departments: the Faculty of Arts has been particularly aggressive in offering additional funding through departments to Aboriginal graduate students. Due to the general challenges in graduate funding, these measures must be monitored carefully. Graduate students work especially closely with faculty and one of the most important factors affecting the recruitment and support of Aboriginal graduate students is the presence of faculty with whom students want to work. As noted below, the recruitment of Aboriginal and other expert research faculty is a key priority, and substantial progress is being made across disciplines. Aboriginal graduate recruitment is already benefiting from the addition of these faculty members and in recent years there has been a significant increase in applications and enrolment.
Fully functional services for Aboriginal students are a key implementation priority. Ineffective delivery of student services frequently results in higher levels of stress for students, and adversely affects their academic work. In some cases, it contributes to the withdrawal of students from the university.
Ineffective delivery also results in inefficient use of staff time: without structural solutions, staff must repeatedly improvise solutions to the same crises. It also constitutes a limit: if UBC were to try to increase the number of Aboriginal students, these crises would multiply, further challenging an already stretched system. To accommodate more students, this system must become more functional and efficient. Since students’ experiences of these services form much of their impression of the university, there is little point in increasing recruiting efforts if the reports students take back to their families and communities are not already very positive. Expanded recruitment will be far more effective when these issues are resolved.
Services for Aboriginal students are distributed across the university, but some are also concentrated in specific units. Academic advising, for instance, is provided by individual faculties, since it requires specific expertise. Many faculties have advisors identified for Aboriginal students, and some (e.g., Arts, Law, Medicine, Science, Land & Food Systems) have dedicated Aboriginal advisors or coordinators.
Other services are more centralized. Some are provided at the First Nations Longhouse, but many are located in different units in the VP Students portfolio. Brock Hall, where many of these other services are located, can be a challenging place for students, and particularly for Aboriginal students who have needs complicated by multiple factors and the complexities of band or other third-party funding. Even services provided elsewhere (e.g., the Longhouse) often require collaboration with these units. The challenge is to provide a more effective and integrated approach to this complex array of necessary services.
Support for graduate students is traditionally provided within departments and the Faculty of Graduate Studies, but there is clear evidence that additional networking support for Aboriginal graduate students across faculties and the university is highly valued. A graduate student support network, the SAGE program, initially developed in the UBC Faculty of Education, now extends across UBC and other institutions in the province, and has been replicated elsewhere. At UBC, a student initiative, the Indigenous Research Group, initially based in the Arts Faculty, has also provided networking for graduate students and other researchers.
To date, the effort to improve services has had several major components. Starting in the summer of 2009, a reassessment of student services available at the Longhouse has been undertaken. Student spaces in the Longhouse were evaluated and redesigned, with a clearer separation of social and study spaces. That preliminary redesign was highly successful, and, with funding secured, a full remodeling of those spaces is now underway. In collaboration with some faculties (Arts, Science) centralized tutoring services for Aboriginal students at the Longhouse were also initiated in September 2009. Those services, highly valued by students, will be expanded in the coming year.
Counselling services have been a major focus of this restructuring. It has been crucial to develop a system in which students have access to counselling that is both professionally accredited and culturally relevant, and that multiple counselors be available to address specific and urgent student needs. A partnership between the UBC Counselling Services and the First Nations House of Learning was formed to provide accredited counseling at both the Longhouse and at the Counseling Centre in Brock Hall. An experienced Aboriginal counselor, Renée Robert, has also been added to Counseling Services staff. In addition, a nurse from Student Health Service now has hours at the Longhouse, and advising by faculty advisors at the Longhouse has also been initiated. Most significantly, in January 2010 the student services coordinator position at the Longhouse was restructured to include more emphasis on strategic planning and student and community development. By forming strategic linkages with other units, better referrals are possible, and the development of other programs, such as mentoring and outreach programs, can proceed with the further engagement of other resources.
As noted above, staff with long experience in Aboriginal student services identified some long-standing structural problems with student services delivery, and with coordination between units. During the 2009-2010 academic year, a Student Services Strategy Group reporting to the Implementation Committee was formed. This group, consisting of the senior Arts Faculty Academic Advisor, the Aboriginal Recruiter-Advisor in Admissions, and the FNHL Student and Community Development Officer, began meeting with staff in various student services units, identifying procedural and structural problems and potential solutions, while maintaining a close working relationship with the campus committee of Aboriginal advisors and coordinators. A further result was the formation in the summer of 2010 of a Coordinator, Strategic Aboriginal Initiatives position in the VP Students portfolio, located in Brock Hall, to coordinate services in units there and liaise with groups across campus.
The result of this reconfiguration of Aboriginal student services has been the establishment of a network among units in the VP Students portfolio (the Enrolment Services/Student Development Services working group) and across campus that will continue to connect the technical expertise and capacities in service units with specific Aboriginal expertise found there and elsewhere. The formation of this network has already had very positive results, and this work should now accelerate. Solutions to even such seemingly intractable problems as 3rd party billing now seem within reach. Because venues have been established in which productive discussions of Aboriginal concerns may be addressed, staff in all involved units see a clearer way to progress.
In addition to the above, the Strategy Group has recommended the following as priority items for the coming year:
- improved data collection, including storage, access, and reporting;
- greater transparency in the provision of financial aid, including resolution of third-party billing issues, and more effective connection of students to available resources;
- increased efficiency in applications and other forms processing;
- development of a more integrated wellness strategy for Aboriginal student health.
One of the most significant commitments a university can make is the hiring of tenure-track (permanent) faculty. Since the Strategic Plan process began, UBC has almost doubled its cohort of Indigenous professors. Among the new Indigenous professors are: Dr Mark Aquash (Education: NITEP program), Candis Callison (Arts Faculty: Journalism), Dana Claxton (Arts Faculty: Art History, Visual Art, and Theory), Dr David Close (Science Faculty: Zoology and the Fisheries Centre), Dr Peter Cole (Education: Curriculum & Pedagogy), Dr Glen Coulthard (Arts Faculty: First Nations Studies and Political Science), Dr Tracy Friedel (Education: Curriculum & Pedagogy), Darlene Johnston (Law), Dr Sheryl Lightfoot (Arts: First Nations Studies and Political Science), Dr Dory Nason (Arts: First Nations Studies and English). These ten new tenure-track professors join eleven others already at UBC, and more may soon follow.
Despite the progress made in the hiring of Aboriginal scholars, some concern has been raised that Aboriginal faculty, underrepresented at all ranks, are proportionally even more underrepresented at advanced ranks. Pre-tenure Aboriginal faculty have, in the past, also been recruited into administrative positions, a circumstance that may have adversely affected their advancement, and it is often the case that the administrative or program development demands on Aboriginal faculty are greater than those on their peers. Ensuring that faculty recruited to UBC have stable platforms for their work requires a more complete discussion, and the development of a more complete account of the role of Aboriginal faculty members must form a basis for it.
In addition, UBC has recently added non-Aboriginal expert faculty in key curricular areas (two in Indigenous history, one with an Aboriginal focus in English and Women’s Studies, one very recently in Anthropology) who add to the considerable expertise available across the university. Curricular initiatives and graduate students follow faculty expertise, so the addition of all of these research-level scholars is of primary significance.
Approximately twenty-two Indigenous faculty and staff work at UBC on other kinds of appointments in academic programs (adjunct faculty, librarians, advisors, coordinators, etc.). Since the initiation of the Strategic Plan, two have been added in the Institute for Aboriginal Health and Counseling Services has added an Aboriginal counselor.
The development of curriculum follows the arrival of new faculty, but it may also be the outcome of sustained initiatives. For example, in the last two years, the First Nations Languages Program has expanded its offerings beyond its established curriculum in the Coast Salish dialect spoken at Musqueam to include community-based courses in Kwak’wala and Cree, though sustainable funding for these courses has yet to be secured. The exact number of new courses added in a given year is difficult to determine for several reasons, but in the last three years, over thirteen courses with significant Aboriginal content have been added to the UBC catalogue. The total number of courses with significant Aboriginal content offered in a given year is variable, since not every course is offered every year. Based on lists maintained by units for degree purposes, however, it is safe to say that at least fifty-five courses are offered yearly. Some faculties have also considered ways to broaden the reach of existing curricula, in some cases moving towards Aboriginal content requirements for students in their programs (e.g., Education). Programs to train professional students in areas such as health care to better interact with and serve Aboriginal clients and organizations are also in development.
One of the most important factors in recruiting new faculty or students to a university is the campus climate—how Aboriginal or other traditionally underrepresented people experience their treatment by others. During consultations in the early stages of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, we heard many stories of times in which Aboriginal people were stopped on university grounds by staff or security who questioned their presence. Today, UBC is a truly multicultural campus upon which such incidents are far less likely to occur, but it is still the case that many students, faculty, and staff arrive at the university with very little understanding of Aboriginal people or Aboriginal history and many problematic assumptions. Incidents of racism still occur, and there is still potential for misunderstandings, or for discussions in classes, even when they begin innocuously enough, to veer into very troubled waters. A recent student video project, What I Learned in Class Today: Aboriginal Issues in the Classroom, documented student experiences of some of those more troubling instances and brought them to university-wide attention.
In the 2009-2010 academic year, following on the attention brought by this project, a partnership between the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG; now renamed the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology) and FNHL resulted in the establishment of a new position in TAG designed to initiate dialogue around professional and productive conduct of classroom discussions of cross-cultural and Aboriginal issues. Karrmen Crey, one of the principals of the earlier What I Learned in Class Today project, was hired for this position. Her work under this initiative has been to provide the basis for professional development for faculty and for the training of graduate teaching assistants. At the end of the 2009-2010 academic year, Karrmen resigned from this position to begin graduate studies, but her work has exceeded expectations and has provided a very solid basis on which her successor can build. This initiative has provided a place for Indigenous faculty to develop a community for thinking about pedagogical issues, and for a wider dialogue with other faculty who have had questions or anxieties, but have had no venue for productive discussions.
The importance of intercultural relationships has also been identified as a critical element of the broader framework of the university strategic plan. Following the development of the Aboriginal and the Equity and Diversity strategic plans, a group has been formed to frame a cultural diversity statement that would also operate as a larger frame for the specific discussion of Aboriginal concerns. While neither of these initiatives can guarantee that students will not encounter difficult discussions in classrooms or insensitive remarks elsewhere, they are both part of a process of defining an institutional context in which such incidents will be increasingly seen to arise from exceptional, rather than normative behaviour.
UBC has long been a leader in Aboriginal research, and some programs, particularly in health research, have been conducting research for many years. UBC faculty have lead their fields in many other areas, and some have provided crucial academic testimony in legal and other significant processes. The Aboriginal Strategic Plan calls for greater integration of UBC’s research in Aboriginal areas. This spring, for the first time a preliminary research colloquium for researchers in Aboriginal areas was co-sponsored by the First Nations House of Learning and the Office of Research Services. Over 120 researchers attended, with more indicating interest in future meetings. This meeting confirmed the significant level of research activity at UBC Vancouver, its distribution across units and disciplines, and the general lack of awareness of UBC researchers in these fields of each other’s activities. Later in the spring a follow-up event for researchers in health-related fields was held.
In addition, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC) has initiated a series of discussions around community-based research. Community-based research is an important area for Aboriginal research, and these discussions should provide a good basis for moving forward in this area, and for further supporting graduate research and UBC’s undergraduate programs of research partnerships with Aboriginal communities and organizations (e.g., the First Nations Studies Program).
The discussions surrounding community-based research are very significant for another reason: new models of community-based research present opportunities for meaningful collaboration between university researchers and Aboriginal communities and for overcoming the legacy of exploitative research practices of the past. Developing collaborative relationships requires considerable time and effort. University procedures for evaluating faculty must recognize the specific requirements of these models to ensure that the work of faculty members, and in particular early career and Aboriginal faculty, is recognized and that faculty are not dissuaded from pursuing them.
Examples of significant community-based and collaborative research may be found across campus. They include the Reciprocal Research Network developed by the Museum of Anthropology in collaboration with three First Nations communities, the community-based language stabilization work undertaken by the First Nations Languages Program with Musqueam and other communities, and others. Most recently, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC), in conjunction with the UBC Library system, FNHL, FNSP, and the School of Library, Archival, and Information Sciences, has undertaken a collaborative research project surrounding the formation of community digital archives in partnership with the First Nations Technology Council and three communities (Namgis, Ktunaxa, and Heiltsuk). This initiative and others like it are a direct response to the Aboriginal Strategic Plan.
In addition, some units have taken very active positions on research and community service that have not yet produced concrete results. In particular, the Faculty of Applied Science under the direction of Dean Tyseer Aboulnasr has sought to develop community partnerships to implement an initiative similar to “Engineers Without Borders” that develops infrastructure-building relationships with local First Nations communities. Though this initiative was slowed by capacity problems at FNHL, this very promising initiative is now moving forward for the coming year.
Other work around the university has also produced substantial community engagement. Professor Leonie Sandercock in the School of Community and Regional Planning, for instance, has recently premiered a documentary film on the history and experiences of the Cheslatta and Ts’il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake) Carrier bands. This film, produced in close collaboration with the bands and other Aboriginal advisors, is valuable in creating a new kind of voice for the communities, in informing a broader public of community circumstances, and in serving as a basis for ongoing discussions and negotiations. It is the result of two years of intensive work with the communities and part of a new paradigm of collaborative research.
This year the UBC Belkin Art Gallery hosted Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in, an exhibition co-curated by UBC professor Charlotte Townsend-Gault and Nuu-chah-nulth artist and intellectual Ki-ke-in (Ron Hamilton). This exhibition was groundbreaking in its collaborative practice, and brought back for display Nuu-chah-nulth thliitsapilthim (ceremonial curtains) from across North America. Because of earlier processes of alienation from their communities of origin, several of these thliitsapilthim had never been seen by the families for whom they were originally produced.
This exhibit provided a way for visitors to appreciate the beauty of these works, but also to understand their function and importance in Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Indeed, an important aspect of the exhibition was to challenge the categories through which museums have presented Aboriginal art. In his opening remarks at the ceremony that opened the exhibit, Ki-ke-in successfully transformed the gallery space into a cultural space for the work of the community, asserting the primacy of that function and the role of the thliitsapilthim within it. Truly, it was a groundbreaking reply to critiques of museum and gallery practice and a rare experience of cultural interaction.
An exhibit such as Backstory does not happen overnight: it is the result of years of collaborative effort and the understandings that emerge from it. It, and the other projects already noted, are significant examples of the very positive developments that can come out of collaborations between Aboriginal communities and research universities such as UBC if the right people are present and their partnerships supported. It is important to note that the film and exhibit just described predate the Aboriginal Strategic Plan. The Plan, however, now provides a context that both supports and extends the kinds of work they represent.
This winter, Harry Somers’ opera Louis Riel was performed by the UBC Opera Ensemble and UBC Symphony Orchestra accompanied by a whole set of supporting interpretive events that drew together musicologists, historical scholars, and Métis community leaders. Like another set of events two years earlier, the Chan Centre premiere of a restored print of the 1914 Edward Curtis film In the Land of the Headhunters that had extensive Kwakwaka’wakw community participation, this event used the public spaces and programming capabilities of the university to foreground community histories and concerns to new audiences, and for the university to function reciprocally as a site for community work.
Several UBC units have also partnered with urban Aboriginal organizations and the City of Vancouver in the Dialogues project that works to establish constructive dialogues between recent immigrants and Aboriginal people in the city. This project is an important part of a larger cross-cultural conversation vital to the social and political development of the city and the position of Aboriginal people within it.
UBC has a long history of innovative individual programs that engage Aboriginal youth. The Native Youth Program at the Museum of Anthropology has been running for more than thirty years, and other programs, such as CEDAR and the Summer Science Program provide other summer venues for youth engagement. To date, these programs have operated independently and without much interaction, and often on contingent funding. Plans are currently underway to expand these programs and stabilize their funding.
Another set of programs work through specific partnerships. Several programs operate through partnerships with Musqueam. Musqueam 101 is an academic program operating through the Arts Faculty that brings UBC and visiting academics and other speakers to a weekly seminar conducted on reserve and available for UBC credit. This program is now entering its tenth year and the Arts Faculty has recently committed to recurring funding for it. Bridge Through Sport is another partnership through which Musqueam hosts an annual Aboriginal youth soccer tournament at UBC. Bridge Through Sport has also played a part in the formation of a creative writing class and homework club at Musqueam in which UBC faculty and students have participated. The relocation of an outreach coordinator associated with the Bridge Through Sport to FNHL will provide the basis for a more integrated approach to these and other outreach possibilities.
Other programs, such as the Ch’nook program operated by the Sauder School of Business have developed innovative outreach frameworks. Ch’nook has established networks among BC post-secondary business programs and offered scholarship support for Aboriginal business students in them. It has also developed a low-residency certificate program for established community-based entrepreneurs. The Ch’nook program has benefited from significant private sector funding.
These outreach programs have operated for the most part in traditional face-to-face modalities, and there is good reason to recognize the importance of personal contact. The possibilities of contact through newer forms of communications, especially with younger students in remote communities, however, are worth exploring. The eHealth Strategy Office in the Faculty of Medicine has recently received a grant for more than $900,000 to establish internet mentoring relationships between UBC Medical students and professors and younger Aboriginal learners. The Barber Learning Centre is exploring the possibility of hosting interactive sessions between UBC professors and Aboriginal K-12 students in distant communities. A private donation to UBC Robson Square and Continuing Education will also support a public lecture and podcast series on Aboriginal issues next fall.
One of the primary recommendations of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan is the development of a coherent and integrated communications strategy for Aboriginal initiatives that would supplement the mailing lists, websites, and print publications already in use. In the last year, the focus at UBC Vancouver has been on the development of a web portal for Aboriginal programs. In concept, this portal has been designed to provide ways for users to see and understand the full range of Aboriginal programs and initiatives and opportunities at UBC-V, to locate desired information quickly, and to transition to individual program sites quickly and seamlessly. The design of the site has been complex, since it must operate efficiently, and yet speak to and engage many audiences, from research funding agencies, prospective faculty, and potential donors, to current and prospective students, faculty and staff, community members, and parents.
In order to make it engaging and effective for all of these potential users, the site has been designed to include all the normal and familiar navigational tools, but first and foremost, to be driven by stories: each section is introduced by a lead feature story that connects users with a person or people doing something interesting in that area. The goal is not only to humanize the site and connect people, but also to give a clearer picture of the activity that occurs there. Many of these stories are told through video interviews, and stories and videos will be updated regularly with content that stimulates user interest, and allows people to quickly see the depth of activity the university includes. This site will launch in February 2011 and may be viewed at http://aboriginal.ubc.ca.
The First Nations House of Learning has received matching funding for the coming year from UBC Public Affairs to continue work on this website, to produce additional print publications for use in community relations and recruiting, and to host events for similar purposes.
During the formation of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, considerable attention was given to the question of resources. The establishment of a central fund for Aboriginal initiatives was rejected as a primary funding mechanism, since such funds have often had the adverse effect of halting initiatives already in progress that do not receive special funding, or creating initiatives solely dependent on special funding that have died when the special funding ended (a familiar result of government funding of Aboriginal initiatives). The Aboriginal Strategic Plan, while acknowledging the necessity of some central funding for infrastructural projects or projects that necessarily operate in a central location, has encouraged the integration of funding for Aboriginal initiatives into the core budgets of units in which initiatives occur. President Toope originally proposed the construction of the ASP as a way of identifying initiatives early on in strategic planning so that they could be integrated into budgetary processes. The premise that units should embed Aboriginal initiatives in their core funding and identify them for support in their allocation was consistently presented to units throughout the consultation process on the Plan, and later in its early implementation phase. In the meantime, central administration has been responsive to unit priorities, especially in the core area of faculty hiring, in which unit commitment to Aboriginal initiatives has been supplemented with additional resources, and there is no single area of resource commitment with greater or more significant implications.
The 2009-2010 budgetary process was an important moment for UBC Vancouver in addressing budgetary limitations and moving towards a new and more strategic budget process. In the very substantial changes that transition to this model entailed, some of the attention to the embedding of strategic priorities such as the ASP in budgets was lost. The administration has committed to the reassertion of this model in budgetary discussions in the new academic year. Even so, as unit summaries indicate, units have moved forward in taking responsibility for actions in support of the ASP that fall within their domains. These are welcome developments, and commitment to this model will be a primary factor in distinguishing UBC’s Aboriginal Strategic Plan from the many others that have relied on special (and therefore highly contingent) funding as their approach.
Other sources of funding are critically important, and the model described above retains the incentives to pursue external funding both from granting agencies and private sources. Granting agencies are primary sources for many Aboriginal research projects and associated initiatives. The efforts described above to build stronger and more integrated communities of practice will make UBC an increasingly attractive location for funded research. The benefits are likely to be particularly evident in areas such as health research, in which major funding initiatives are underway, and in which more integrated approaches, especially to Aboriginal health, are recognized to be effective.
The 2010-11 academic year marks the end of a four-year commitment from the BC Provincial Government for the Pacific Century Graduate Scholarships, which as part of its operations provided scholarship funding for several Aboriginal graduate students over the past four years. BC’s only graduate scholarship program, the PCGS has not been renewed, reducing further the funding available for Aboriginal graduate students. UBC and other BC universities should advocate for its renewal or a replacement scholarship program, through which the BC government would demonstrate the Province’s commitment to Aboriginal advancement.
Private sources are equally important, and several UBC programs, notably the Ch’nook Program in the Sauder School of Business, have benefited from major corporate grants. The formation of an integrated university-wide development strategy for Aboriginal initiatives is now underway that will present prospective donors with the array of choices and opportunities. The location of each program within a clear spectrum of activity is more likely to convince donors that their contributions will be institutionally supported in a synergistic environment. Further development also depends upon units, and especially faculties, identifying Aboriginal priorities that can be included in this approach.
The major challenges identified by the Aboriginal Strategic Plan, of course, remain. Aboriginal students are still underrepresented at UBC, and engagement strategies supporting younger Aboriginal students remains a priority. Indigenous and expert faculty still need to be recruited and supported. Curriculum addressing Aboriginal issues, public programming, and more effective modes of conducting classroom discussions of them still require further development. Research in Aboriginal areas and collaborative research relationships with Aboriginal communities and organizations still need to be expanded. As reported here, progress is being made in many, though not yet all, of these areas.
For a variety of reasons, some of the specific areas identified for UBC Vancouver in the first priorities document have not seen significant movement. Though it remains an important issue for many researchers, no forum has yet been formed for the deliberate discussion of intellectual property issues. This is an important issue and a forum could be formed at any time by a faculty member or group that takes initiative. In the absence of such a group forming organically, FNHL or another unit will have to initiate action, and to date, FNHL has not had the capacity to do so. FNHL did collaborate in organizing the address of another, similar issue, ethics for research with Aboriginal people and communities. Another identified area is the formation of an urban Aboriginal plan for the university. Early steps to the formation of a plan in include the initiation of closer working relationships with urban Aboriginal organizations and the identification of staff to develop some of those relationships.
In some of the areas identified above, the pace of progress is limited by available funding. In others, it is limited by the pace of development of supporting structures in other units. In many cases, the most significant limitation lies in the difficulty of identifying and attracting the most capable people from pools that in many areas are very small and just developing. UBC has been remarkably successful in adding to its faculty and staff complement in many of the areas noted above. Given the high levels of specialized skills required, however, it is better match the pace of initiatives with the availability of people to advance them, than to attempt to accelerate initiatives beyond our capacity to staff them.