Wednesday, February 12, 2020

UBC's Draft Indigenous Strategic Plan - detailed commentary.

The core of the draft Indigenous Strategic Plan is build around 8 goals and 43 specific action items linked directly to the goals.  Here are the goals:

·      Goal 1: Leading at all levels: Prioritize the advancement of Indigenous peoples’ human rights and respect for Indigenous peoples at all levels of UBC’s leadership and accountability structure.
·      Goal 2: Advocating for the truth: Facilitate open dialogue about truth, reconciliation and the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
·      Goal 3: Moving research forward: Prioritize research initiatives that are community led, legitimize Indigenous ways of knowing and promote Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination.
·      Goal 4: Indigenizing our curriculum: Place Indigenous ways of knowing, culture, histories, experiences and worldviews at the forefront of curriculum delivered across faculties, programs and campuses.
·      Goal 5: Enriching our spaces: Enrich the UBC campus landscape with a stronger Indigenous presence.
·      Goal 6: Recruiting Indigenous people: Position UBC as the most accessible large research university globally for Indigenous students, faculty and staff.
·      Goal 7: Providing tools for success: Forge a network of Indigenous peoples’ human rights resources for communities, students, faculty and staff.
·      Goal 8: Creating a holistic system of support: Provide exceptional and culturally supportive services for Indigenous students, communities, faculty and staff.

These are a powerful set of goals that will indeed lead UBC forward in ways that will set the stage for other post secondary institutions serious about redressing the history of colonialism and their complicity with it.

In what follows I look in greater detail at the action items, consider their implications and suggest what would be required to carry them out. I am not going to repeat the specific action items here, so I refer the intersted reader to the actual document and ask that you reference the draft document for the specific working of each action item I discuss.

Transforming Intent into Action
This first goal comes with 5 action items.  The most important is action item #1: "Develop executive roles across the University ensuring that Indigenous engagement is broadly integrated into all aspects of the University's academic and operational functions."

Without this item many of the action items that follow may well be rendered meaningless. Clearly we need an executive role at the highest level that has authority to make and enforce decisions that is stronger than an advisory role.  But we also require similar managerial positions across the faculties and operational units of the University. Unless there are specific roles charged with the power to make the plan work, the plan will be an empty shell of promises.

It is important to point out that there is a complication in the tension of any such role between manager and advocate. We need both types of roles - to ensure good work is done. If we only have positions tied to the hierarchical power grid of University management then the risk is any of these executive roles would simply replicate mainstream decision making - so there needs also be independent advocate type positions to counterbalance the managerial type roles.

Items with clear budgetary requirements
Most of the action items come with costs, but some are more clearly (or explicitly) implicated in budgetary processes.  For the plan to work there will need to be clear commitment from the Board of Governors and the President's Office to ensure that these items are explicitly budgeted.

Action item #3: "Align UBC's operating budget to provide meaningful and flexible allocations for each goal identified in this this plan." This action item pretty well lays it out. Without clear and identified funding the plan won't work and, unlike previous plans, this one embeds the call in one of the opening five transforming intent action items.

Action items #10, 11, 12, 14 (related to Goal 3, research) all call for clear and specific plan oriented funding programs for reserach, reserach chairs, student funding, and Indigenous research participants and contributors.  One of the drawbacks of previous plans is a lack of clear funding for the 'good' things plans aspire to.

Action items 17 (support for curriculum development), 23 (Indigenous procurement strategy), and 35 (compensating Indigenous colleagues for providing professional services to our colleagues regarding Indigenous content, culturally safe classrooms and workplaces) all draw on the idea that Indigenous people should not be expected to 'volunteer' advice and work that helps the University and our colleagues achieve the goals of this Indigenous Plan. This is a really crucial set of action items. Too often we are expected, as Indigenous peoples, to simply ante up to make things happen.  Given how few of us there are the expectation that we will be happy to volunteer our leads to burnout, overwork, and even cases were individuals are denied tenure or have their careers deflected.

Item 23 is similar, but a bit different in it's intent to use the resources of the University to facilitate and support Indigenous business. In the world of the Impact Benefit Agreement, this is a very common clause and one that should be fairly easy for UBC to implement.

Cultural Support
This is a category in which many of the action items fit, but one in particular strikes me as important to highlight: #21. "Dedicate spaces [note the plural form] for Indigenous students, faculty and staff to practice and celebrate their culture."  Having the First Nations Longhouse is important, but this action item points to the need to have more than one place on campus. It acknowledges (implicitly) that to indigenize and decolonize UBC we need to be welcome and supported across the entire university, on all campuses, in all faculties, all units. Such support requires, among other things, material support in the form of places. In the face of a drive to expand the faculty complement and continue to increase enrolment across the university the lack of space will likely become a major obstacle to supporting Indigenous peoples.  HOWEVER, having dedicated spaces to practice and celebrate our Indigenous cultures is critical and should be nonnegotiable. Providing this space needs to be made a top priority, not a thing on a long undifferentiated list.

Respectful Acknowledgement of the Host Nations
There has been some suggestion that the plan grants too much to Musqueam and Okanagan Nation Alliance. I took some more time to carefully read over the action items to try and determine which of the 7 (out of 43) action items might be things that fit into a bilateral agreement between UBC and Musqueam and/or that they might infringe on the Crown’s right to assert its authority in matters of governance. 

Here’s what I observe.

Action item 5 – involves negotiating with province to alter university’s act to created mechanisms for shared governance of universities. This is the one item that is most ambitious, but it is consistent with UNDRIP (now part of BC law). 

Action item 7 – develop a communication strategy that informs all members of university community of the unceded nature of lands UBC is on. This is something that is already, to a certain extent, in play what with official land acknowledgements at university functions and prominently placed info on various UBC websites.

Action items 19 & 20 - these relate to campus design and cultural knowledge experts (#20 expands beyond Musqueam and Okanagaon). With the protocol agreement with the Okanagon in hand already and programs like the Musqueam language signs through out campus it seems that the university has already embarked a fair way down this path. Many other universities already have elders in residence and similar programs of valuing cultural knowledge holders (and ubc already has programs that value other forms of knowledge with ‘in residence’ types programs). This seems a nature growth with little change in direction to what is already ongoing.

Action items 26, 30, and 40 – these all involves aspects of capacity building and training opportunities. 26 takes the fairly standard approach found in many IBAs to identify employment/training opportunities; 30 is a scholarship program for Musqueam/Okanagan (something already underway at other universities), and; 40 speaks to a university transition support services for M/O members (something that has already been trialed a number of times in small ways in the past – MUSQ 101, for example was initially framed partially in that manner).  All of these ideas could be productively expanded to include all BC First Nations people.

At the end of the day these are all items that link to ongoing programs, past pilots, and/or fit within already existing developments and directions. To be honest they seem fairly tame and middle of the road to me considering some of the provisions I have seen in IBA’s on the north coast around the LNG industry. 

The full complement of 43 action items chart a powerful path to a transformed University.  They have been developed through an exemplary grounded collaborative and consultative process that adheres to the best in Indigenous models of governance and international law (UNDRIP). There is moment, not just on campus, but in our wider society. As I write this young non-Indigenous allies have been joining with Indigenous youth in a wave of social action sparked by the police invasion of Indigenous lands in northwestern BC.  This should be a our wake up call. The time to finally, authentically, and fundamentally address the legacy of colonialism is now. This plan provides a way to do it and I trust that we, as a whitestream institution, can relinquish the privilege that adheres from our system benefit of colonialism and make the turn toward a better space wherein Indigenous people are welcomed and acknowledged positively. 

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