Educators and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

On Monday of this week, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada released its final report. Entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place,” the report was compiled over two and a half years, comprises more than 1200 pages, and makes 231 recommendations. The calls for change recommended in the report are wide-ranging: from calls for systemic reform of legislative, policing, judicial, and other institutional bodies that have enabled thousands of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual) people to go missing and to be murdered — what the report refers to as part of a “Canadian genocide” — to calls for increased and expanded provision of social, educational, recreational, political, and cultural services and resources that will enable Indigenous communities in Canada to continue to heal from centuries of colonization, racism, poverty, residential schools, and removal.

Predictably, much of the national mainstream media attention has zeroed in on the report’s use of the term genocide, whether the term appropriately refers to the circumstances surrounding the missing and murdered women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, the implications of the terminology for Canada’s reputation on the international scene, whether use of the term in this context evacuates it of its rhetorical force, etc.

An article that introduces some of the issues surrounding “Reclaiming Power and Place” can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/genocide-murdered-missing-indigenous-women-inquiry-report-1.5157580. Another article that focuses on the impact of the report for Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/mmiw-sask-women-travelling-to-ottawa-for-report-1.5155780. I encourage readers/listeners of this post to search for additional articles and online videos about the report, as well as to seek out the report itself.

Educators have an important role to play in the circulation of considered information about the report (including information about the historical conditions that have precipitated the report and the legacy of these conditions in the present), in the implementation of the report’s recommendations, and in facilitating the repair of Indigenous communities.

In April, I posted about an article in University Affairs that addresses the range of efforts that Canadian universities have made to “indigenize” their curricula and other components of their respective institutions. That post is here: https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/2019/04/25/indigenization-efforts-vary-widely-on-canadian-campuses-study-finds/

An article about indigenization efforts in Western settler states more generally appeared in Times Higher Education today. Here is an excerpt from the article, an excerpt that begins with a contestable claim by one university administrator:

In Canada, meanwhile, issues around Indigenous communities have been “a priority for over 10 years”, says Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. But he admits that institutional minds were concentrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s calls to action, and he believes that universities recognise “their unique responsibility in the reconciliation process”. Questions around access are “very urgent”, given that the Indigenous population is growing at three times the national average, while proportions going to university are only a third as high. And in research, too, things are starting to change. Universities are rethinking the old models of research on Indigenous communities – which involved “going up North for the summer” and never sharing any of the knowledge generated – and are now examining how to “work in partnerships in a way that is sustainable”. Nonetheless, Davidson acknowledges, “the heavy lifting is still ahead of us”.

One institution that is arguably ahead of the curve is the University of Toronto. According to Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, its director of Indigenous initiatives, the institution now has “a rather robust Indigenous story”. In response to the 94 calls for action, a steering committee delivered a report in early 2017 requiring that all major events at the university include a statement acknowledging that the campus is located on what had been – as the statement puts it – “the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca and, most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River”. Moreover, Hamilton-Diabo and an Indigenous personal librarian were both appointed as part of a wider push to employ more Indigenous faculty. Mentoring programmes offer potential Indigenous students a taste of life on campus. And a new Indigenous “hub” has been created, featuring a medicine garden and “the opportunity to meet with Elders and traditional teachers for support, guidance and teachings”.

Toronto had also responded to specific calls to action by integrating (or planning to integrate) more Indigenous material into courses on social work, nursing, law, education and journalism. Asked about other disciplines, Hamilton-Diabo responds that the university’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has appointed a special adviser to its dean. Jason Bazylak, an associate professor in the teaching stream of mechanical engineering, will be “assisting with the implementation of strategies for incorporating Indigenous content into the curriculum”, Hamilton-Diabo says. “Thus far, first-year design projects include engineering challenges related to Indigenous communities.”

Given that Indigenous thought and philosophy fall outside “a Westernised ideological and methodological framework”, the university needs to find ways of “combining [the two traditions] in ways that are synergistic” and could expose “the limitations of Westernised scientific methodology”.

On the implications for medicine – where Toronto degrees now include “one full course-worth of content focused in Indigenous health” – Hamilton-Diabo points to the example of an independent community health centre in Toronto “where one can receive pharmaceutical-based medical care for diabetes, [plus mainstream services in] dentistry and counselling, while also having the option to engage with traditional approaches to healing”. These include “fasting ceremonies”, “plant-based medicines” and a “sweat lodge”: a hut in which Elders carry out purification ceremonies.

The entire THE article can be found here.

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