… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


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Concept description

Indigenization is the process of changing institutions and processes (particularly in the educational realm) to take greater account of the history, culture, and circumstances of indigenous peoples.

In her article in University Affairs (reference below and link to right) Marcia Macdonald describes recent efforts to indigenize the curriculum and practices  in Canadian academic institutions.

Examples in Macdonald’s article, collated by Natalie Samson, include:

Campus spaces and symbols

  • Buildings inspired by indigenous cultures are popping up on many campuses, including the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre at the University of Saskatchewan designed by Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal (the main campus of the First Nations University of Canada was also designed by Mr. Cardinal); the University of British Columbia’s Longhouse, a prize-winning building that reflects the traditions of the Northwest Coast; the University of Victoria’s First Peoples House, which features a ceremonial hall and elders’ rooms; and the Pavillon des Premiers-Peuples at the Val d’Or campus of Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT), a student space featuring Aboriginal architecture, a tipi and art by Huron-Wendat artist Ludovic Boney. Laurentian University recently broke ground on a new Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre, and the University of Alberta has proposed a centre for Aboriginal students called The Maskwa House of Learning.
  • Campus gardens with traditional plants highlight the importance of nature to indigenous knowledge and culture. Examples include the White Pine Garden at Brock University, the University of New Brunswick’s medicine wheel garden, the Indigenous Food and Medicine Garden at Western University, and the Native Medicine Garden at the University of Toronto.
  • Powwows are a key part of ceremonial and cultural life at many Canadian universities. The University of Regina even offers a course on the basics of powwow.
  • St. Thomas University released a logo specifically for First Nations students and alumni to better represent the dual identities held by indigenous alumni. Similarly, UQAT has a First Peoples logo, which represents the institution’s ties to local indigenous communities and its commitment to intercultural learning.
  • In 2010, UBC’s Okanagan campus erected street signs on campus roads in both English and Nsyilxcen, the language of the Okanagan’s original people.

Academic programs and resources

  • In January, Cape Breton University began offering Learning from Knowledge Keepers of Mi’kma’ki, an introduction to the Mi’kmaq band and the university’s first open-access course.
  • Université du Québec à Chicoutimi has a certificate program in indigenous technolinguistics which prepares students for work in preserving, promoting and revitalizing Aboriginal languages and cultures.
  • University of Manitoba has created a new Master of Social Work based in an Indigenous Knowledges program that will begin accepting students this fall.
  • Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the Tsawwassen First Nation jointly run Farm School, a 20-acre working farm on the Nation’s territory. The school’s 10-month program offers various classes, including one on indigenous food systems.
  • In 2015, Université de Montréal’s anthropology department began offering an interdisciplinary Aboriginal studies program. Meanwhile, Université du Québec à Montréal will begin offering undergraduates in several disciplines an 18-credit specialization in Aboriginal studies starting this fall.
  • Also in the fall, the first cohort of students will begin Trent University’s new BEd program in Aboriginal education.
  • Several faculties of law offer programs on Aboriginal law and at least two, at the University of British Columbia and Lakehead University, have mandatory courses on indigenous legal issues.
  • Most universities in Canada offer a range of resources – financial, academic and otherwise – for Aboriginal students. The Council of Ontario Universities has developed an online portal, Future Further, which lists supports and programs available at Ontario institutions. As well, Universities Canada released a set of principles outlining how universities can close the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and support indigenous knowledge on campus.

Research chairs and projects

  • Jeff Reading of Simon Fraser University holds the inaugural First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital, which places a “holistic” focus on Aboriginal peoples’ cardiac health; Keith G. Brown, Cape Breton University’s vice-president of international and Aboriginal affairs, holds CBU’s Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies; author and artist Gerald McMaster holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University; and Fulbright Canada named Vancouver Island University home to a new Visiting Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies to focus on reconciliation and Aboriginal education.
  • Multi-partner research projects include the First Peoples-First Person Indigenous Hub, which connects community organizations, indigenous peoples and researchers from University of Saskatchewan, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University and University of Alberta to work on wellness and healing practices among indigenous populations; the Nunatsiavut Government and Memorial University are collaborating on a project that will merge academic and traditional research for the preservation and revitalization of Labrador Inuit culture and language; and Trinity Western University opened the Institute of Indigenous Issues and Perspectives, focusing on Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Since 2001, DIALOG (Réseau de recherche et de connaissances relatives aux peuples auto-chtones) has provided a knowledge-sharing network for French-language researchers working on Aboriginal issues. Housed within the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, the network connects more than 150 people from 19 institutions worldwide. Also based in Quebec is CIÉRA (Centre interuniversitaire d’études et de recherches autochtones), a multi-disciplinary, interuniversity research centre based at Université Laval.
  • The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council launched a statement of principles, a revised definition of Aboriginal research, and merit review guidelines to contribute to the development of researchers who are knowledgeable and considerate of Aboriginal perspectives.
Universities Canada principles on Indigenous education

In 2015, Universities Canada, the association representing universities in Canada, released its Principles on Indigenous Education (reference below):

“In the spirit of advancing opportunities for Indigenous students, the leaders of Canada’s universities commit to the following principles, developed in close consultation with Indigenous communities. These principles acknowledge the unique needs of Indigenous communities across Canada and their goals of autonomy and self-determination, as well as differences in jurisdiction among provinces and territories, institutional mission among universities, and the authority of appropriate university governance bodies in academic decision-making.

  1. Ensure institutional commitment at every level to develop opportunities for Indigenous students.
  2. Be student-centered: focus on the learners, learning outcomes and learning abilities, and create opportunities that promote student success.
  3. Recognize the importance of indigenization of curricula through responsive academic programming, support programs, orientations, and pedagogies.
  4. Recognize the importance of Indigenous education leadership through representation at the governance level and within faculty, professional and administrative staff.
  5. Continue to build welcoming and respectful learning environments on campuses through the implementation of academic programs, services, support mechanisms, and spaces dedicated to Indigenous students.
  6. Continue to develop resources, spaces and approaches that promote dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
  7. Continue to develop accessible learning environments off-campus.
  8. Recognize the value of promoting partnerships among educational and local Indigenous communities and continue to maintain a collaborative and consultative process on the specific needs of Indigenous students.
  9. Build on successful experiences and initiatives already in place at universities across the country to share and learn from promising practices, while recognizing the differences in jurisdictional and institutional mission.
  10. Recognize the importance of sharing information within the institution, and beyond, to inform current and prospective Indigenous students of the array of services, programs and supports available to them on campus.
  11. Recognize the importance of providing greater exposure and knowledge for non-Indigenous students on the realities, histories, cultures and beliefs of Indigenous people in Canada.
  12. Recognize the importance of fostering intercultural engagement among Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, faculty and staff.
  13. Recognize the role of institutions in creating an enabling and supportive environment for a successful and high quality K-12 experience for Aboriginal youth.

“Recognizing that other stakeholders have a role to play – governments, businesses, Indigenous organizations – university leaders also commit to the following actions to bring these principles to life:

  • Raise awareness within institutions about the importance of facilitating access and success for Indigenous students on campus.
  • Raise awareness among government partners and stakeholders of these commitments and the importance of investing in sustainable initiatives that advance higher education opportunities for Indigenous youth.
  • Raise awareness in public discourse of positive Indigenous students’ experience in university and their contributions to Canadian society.
  • Develop partnerships with the private sector to foster opportunities for Indigenous people.
  • Continue to listen to and collaborate with Indigenous communities.”
Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Four of the 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 (reference below) dealt with education for reconciliation:

62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:

i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.

ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.

iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.

iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education.

63. We call upon the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including:

i. Developing and implementing Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum and learning resources on Aboriginal peoples in Canadian history, and the history and legacy of residential schools.

ii. Sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history.

iii. Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

iv. Identifying teacher-training needs relating to the above.

64. We call upon all levels of government that provide public funds to denominational schools to require such schools to provide an education on comparative religious studies, which must include a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices developed in collaboration with Aboriginal Elders.

65. We call upon the federal government, through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, post-secondary institutions and educators, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and its partner institutions, to establish a national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation.

Converge 2017 Conference

Universities Canada organized a conference entitled Converge 2017 on 6-7 February 2017 with presentations from, inter alia, the Prime Minister and the Governor General, (see videos on the conference website at in which reconciliation was an important topic.

Commentary from the panel discussions on reconciliation is summarized in an article in University Affairs (reference below) includes:

“Panellist Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, voiced his concern that the term “reconciliation” is being treated as a buzzword or trend, with no real action behind it. In his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and now with the NCTR, he has witnessed how talk of reconciliation has stirred up hope for real, transformational change in the way Indigenous peoples are treated. Failing to follow that talk up with transformational action would amount to a betrayal. “Don’t play with this stuff. We’re dealing not with abstracts but real death, real rape, real families,” he told the room.

“Robina Thomas, director of Indigenous academic and community engagement at the University of Victoria, identified several “actionable deeds” for universities to perform, such as developing required courses that provide students with the “knowledge of the imperial impact on Indigenous communities” and the “deep systemic violence” waged against them. She also advised university administrators to counter Indigenous under-representation in institutional decision-making. Dr. Thomas added that under-representation should also be addressed at all levels of the institution and in all disciplines, and that all universities should offer fully resourced spaces and services for Indigenous staff and students. “It’s more than a checklist,” Dr. Thomas said. “It’s about reimagining and recreating a different kind of university.”

“For Killulark (Laura) Arngna’naaq, director of finance at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, such a university would “have services for people like me.” As a student at Trent University and later the University of Toronto, Ms. Arngna’naaq, an Inuk from Baker Lake, Nunavut, did not see her experience reflected in any of services or programs. She said considering their location in southern Ontario, she understood why these institutions would focus on the First Nations communities in their vicinity, but the fact that there was little in the way to engage Inuit people leaves Inuit students at a disadvantage.

““There’s no postsecondary institution on Inuit territory,” Ms. Arngna’naaq pointed out. “We have to travel far away to study and spend lots of money to do it.” And the farther north one travels in Canada, the less reliable internet service becomes – which leaves online education options unrealistic. “The only option is to leave home, to leave your territory and family, which creates a whole set of new problems for Inuit students,” she said.

“An additional obstacle on the path to a reconciled relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is defining what that relationship will look like on both sides. “There’s a process of figuring out how we want to be together before we can move forward,” said Sheila Cote-Meek, associate vice-president of academic and Indigenous programs and Laurentian University. Reconciliation does not amount to an erasure of the past, she said, and a reconciled relationship must honour the “sacred cycle of keeping the past, present.” It’s an approach that she said would help governments and institutions to improve their relationships with Indigenous peoples, as well as with most marginalized and underserved communities.

“Dr. Cote-Meek, a professor in Laurentian’s school of Indigenous relations and author of the book Colonized Classrooms: Racism, Trauma and Resistance in Post-Secondary Education, noted that these many challenges and solutions have received significant attention since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report and calls to action in 2015. However, they have long been discussed by Indigenous scholars, community leaders and their allies. Now, it’s a matter of recognizing that expertise and enabling it to lead the way. “We’re ready to move forward,” she said, “we just need someone to say, ‘Go.’””


Moira Macdonald (2016), Indigenizing the academy, University Affairs, 6 April 2016, at, accessed 8 April 2016.

Natalie Samson (2017), Reconciliation requires “actionable deeds” by universities, not just talk, University Affairs, 13 February 2017, at, accessed 15 February 2017.

Universities Canada, Universities Canada principles on Indigenous education, at, accessed 8 April 2018.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), Calls to Action, at, accessed 8 April 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Indigenous Governance in the public management subject of Governance and Institutions.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 15 February 2017.

Image: Illustration by Julie Flett in Moira Macdonald (2016), Indigenizing the academy, University Affairs, 6 April 2016, at, accessed 8 April 2016.