Saturday, April 6, 2019

Open Letter to UBC Anthropology

Recently I was offered a CRC tier 1 position in Indigenous Nationhood at the University of Victoria.  I have discussed this with some of you and others may well have heard the news as well. I wanted to share with you directly my decision.

I have declined the offer.

For those of you who have had a similar opportunity you will appreciate this is not an easy decision.  For me one of the primary considerations was being able to stay close to my father.  

Having had this opportunity also gave me an opportunity to reflect upon what one might do here at UBC.  I was very impressed by the work people at the University of Victoria have undertaken to make reconciliation a meaningful word. From the number of First Nations (and other Indigenous) faculty on staff to amazing student opportunities (like their new Indigenous Law Programme), U. Vic. is putting real life into the good words they speak.

There are many things happening at UBC-V as well, but it is striking that so many of the really effective programs have been initiated at places like UNBC, Thompson Rivers University, Vancouver Island University, UBC-Okanogan, or U. Vic.  There is an opportunity for UBC to do more. Our overall university enrolment figures lag way behind other BC universities. First Nations and other Indigenous students still report significant and problematic issues in classrooms. There are barely more than two-dozen tenured/tenure-stream Indigenous faculty at UBC.  Despite some notable exceptions (our department being one of them), most Indigenous-related research remains at an extractive, rather than collaborative, level.

It would have been easy to step across the gulf to U.Vic. where so much had already been done, where many of my colleagues would have been First Nations faculty and students from BC and nearby, and where there were clear programs well supported and well established. U.Vic has become a place where the question is no longer “why should we do this?” but instead is “how will we do this?”  Honestly, that was a powerful incentive for this First Nations faculty member.

Our program and our university have done some good things advancing a decolonizing agenda. We are well recognized as scholars who value place-based, community-engaged research.  In our program there are examples of good work that builds on respectful research relationships with Indigenous communities.  I would like be part of a change that takes us further.

There are three areas we can build upon that would meaningfully address the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ calls to action:
·      Making our teaching environment more welcoming to, and inclusive of, Indigenous students. 
·      Taking advantage of our coming opportunity for faculty renewal to bring more First Nations and Indigenous faculty into our department as part of a move toward authentic inclusion of BIPOC colleagues.
·      Transforming our graduate program to meet the calls to action by providing meaningful opportunities for more First Nations and Indigenous students.

It has become common place to acknowledge that UBC is situated on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations and the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples. Answering the TRC calls to action means putting real action behind our words. 

Our task in putting action behind our words involves ensuring that First Nation students don’t ever worry that they will have an uncomfortable experience in an anthropology course again.  It involves shifting our institutional conception that the university delivers capacity to First Nations, when in fact that capacity transfer more often goes from First Nation to university. We can take up our responsibility to provide meaning graduate opportunities for First Nations students from BC and beyond.

I look forward to working with each of you to strengthen our chosen place of work and communities of practice through a sincere acknowledgment of the settler heritage of UBC and the accompanying obligation to transform that heritage through open honest authentic inclusion of Indigenous peoples in our work, teaching, and community.