Friday, February 14, 2020

Final remarks at my last full meeting of the UBC Board of Governors.

In 2016, when I ran for election as a governor I argued that it was time for a change in how the BoG responds to faculty members. It is time for new faculty voices, different voices from what were accustomed to. In fact, we very often never ever heard from our representatives once they began their terms on the board.  Deliberations at the board level had become shrouded behind a veil of secrecy and subterfuge. I have no strong opinion on the palace coup that precipitated a particularly rocky period of UBC governance aside from the fact that the machinations around it revealed a culture of secrecy and cohabitation between a corporate oriented and controlled board and a layer of university administration that found democratic practices distasteful.

Before beginning my term on this board I had only twice before attended a board meeting; once as a student activist when we really got no further than the top of the stairway in the old admin building. Then once more as a faculty member participant in a UBC Clean rally when we took our protest from the street into this board room. From the vantage of this table with three years behind me I believe that I can say with some confidence that while minor changes can be made, real power lies in the streets.

The democratic reforms that have been made on this board derived from the pressures of faculty from units and departments across this campus who said that’s enough and were willing to put their personal lives and careers at risk to say so. The climate emergency declaration came after thousands of students took to the streets, demanding that their elders stop squandering their future. The current Indigenous plan that is moving forward is here also due to the work of community activists over the decades refusing to allow colonialism to forever shape our future.

I firmly believe that a diversity, not of the superficial, but of the fundamental, experiential, life, and perspective –is critical to being able to address our democratic responsibility governing this public institution. When I joined this board there was no real diversity of life experience or perspective at this. This is not a criticism of the individuals as it was the government that put most of you here. But from the vantage point of a Indigenous person, born in BC, a working class northern BC’er, this was a table populated by those more familiar with corporate board rooms than world I am from. The boards of public institution are best when they include broader cross section of people – union leaders, social activists, community organizers and yes some lawyers, accountants, and business people. It will be interesting to see where this board takes UBC over the next few years.  

There is, of course, much to acknowledge in the every day operations of this large institution. I have appreciated the opportunity to meet the individuals charged with making the daily decisions that keep this large vessel moving forward. There is much to commend them for in their care, concern, and commitment. While I may disagree with the overall course taken, I understand and appreciate the reasons why.

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. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

UBC's Draft Indigenous Strategic Plan - a real leap forward.

This past week in closed session of the Board’s Indigenous Engagement Committee we were treated to an early view of the draft Indigenous Action Plan that will be publicly revealed at the full board of governors meeting this coming Valentine’s Day.  It’s an impressive plan.

Until the plan is publicly released I cannot speak to details, but I can and will speak to the generalities of the plan. [Note: as of Feb. 9, 2020, the plan has been made publicly available. Read it here. My detailed comments to follow.]

First to note is the amazing work that has been coordinated by Sheryl Lightfoot, Margaret Moss and their team. This work goes beyond the act of writing the plan to the work of collaborative community engagements.  The process has been exemplary – thousands of points of engagement (surveys, one on one meetings, stakeholder meetings, focus groups, student meetings, etc., etc., etc.).  All of this done in the spirit of UNDRIP and guided by the principles of Indigenous governance. While the report summarizes all that work in a very short couple of paragraphs, it could well lay the basis for peer reviewed journal articles on how universities can engage in decolonial and Indigenizing practices. The entire process has been an act of putting words into action.

The draft action plan is built around eight clearly stated goals. Unlike many similar high-level strategic documents, the Indigenous Strategic Plan provides a clear roadmap of action that shows us how we can actually achieve our goals. Furthermore, these goals are consistent with the federal and provincial governments’ commitment to UNDRIP, the TRC call to action, and UBC President, Santa Ono’s Residential School Apology.  

The draft plan also takes seriously our official land acknowledgements by specifically referencing action items to programs that acknowledge Musqueam and Okanagan First Nations. There is good ground to ensure such programs expand to all BC First Nations, but this is a strong step forward putting material weight behind the words used in land acknowledgements.

There is a lot in the plan. Once it is put into the public domain I will have specific comments about the details of the eight goals and forty-three actions. What I will comment on at this juncture is that this plan is ahead of the pack in terms of the post secondary sector and would clearly put UBC once more into the leading cohort within the sector. The process that brings us to this kind of plan is similar to what is going on elsewhere in BC with regard to industry development projects and associated agreements.

Industry agreements, often called Impact Benefit Agreements, are entered into to forestall potential Aboriginal Rights and Title litigation (among other reasons). Furthermore the Crown (federal or provincial governments) have typically delegated the duty to consult with First Nations to industry proponents. While government has the capacity to enter into agreements that acknowledge rights and titles, industry proponents don’t so they instead offer economic benefits through the mechanism of an IBA. The economic benefits include things like, but not restricted to, joint decision making processes, preferential hiring practices, guarantees of sub-contracting rights, direct cash payments, and a range of associated educational and training program funding.

A public university’s strategic plan focussed on Indigenous people is driven and made necessary by a similar underlying process – the reality under Canadian law of Aboriginal Rights and Title. That’s why university boards and administrators find themselves being compelled to create such documents and plans. The people outside of the circles of power, Indigenous faculty, students, staff and our non-Indigenous allies see the creation of these plans differently – they are seen through the lens of decolonization and social justice.  This creates a problem at the decision making table when everyone may be using the same words but having very different ideas in mind about what they are doing and the output they wish to enact.

I fear that when those in power misunderstand the fundamental difference in perspective we will end up with a glossy brochure, with some tokens of good will and economic offers, but very little of substantive change will come. The current Indigenous Strategic Plan offers an opportunity for fundamental change that, while impoverished in terms of the economic offers underlying it, does contain important conceptual frameworks that have a real potential to make a difference.  I hope that my fellow governors can find their way to align with the intellectual traditions of decolonization and social justice and move UBC forcefully into a new period of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations. I truly hope that they can find it in their hearts to accept this powerful new Indigenous Strategic Plan and not use formalist and procedural mechanisms to deflate and diminish the good work that has been done by Drs Lightfoot and Moss.