What truth and reconciliation looks like at Dalhousie 

Panelists discuss the progress and the future of truth and reconciliation in education

Dalhousie University hosted their first panel in the Implementing Indigenous Reconciliation series on Oct 14. The panel took place online and featured three speakers offering their legal, activist and personal perspectives on implementing meaningful Indigenous reconciliation both in the university setting and across Turtle Island/Canada. 

The event was hosted by Dalhousie and chaired by Constance MacIntosh, the Director of Dal’s Health Law Institute. The first panel dealt with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 calls to action. These calls to action were put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission back in 2015, the commission was put together to address the violent legacy of the Indian Residential School System and determine ways to accept that history and for Canada to reconcile its relationship with Indigenous communities. The calls to action call upon different levels of policy makers to make specific changes to their respective systems. 

Speakers at the Dalhousie panel looked at the progress made since 2015, when these 94 calls to action were first published and spoke about the future of implementing them. 

Calls to action and university: law and journalism schools. 

There are 94 TRC calls to action for policymakers in Canada. Not all of these call upon the federal and territorial governments to make changes. Four calls directly upon post-secondary institutions, numbers 16, 24, 28 and 86. 

The TRC calls upon post-secondary institutions to offer programs in Indigenous languages. It also calls on law schools, medical schools and schools of journalism to educate students on how their fields have affected Indigenous populations and how to properly understand Indigenous issues. 

“All universities across the country need to form some sort of association of oversight to support each other, share and exchange information to seek out together best practices for reconciliation,” said panellist Chief Robert Joseph. Joseph is the founder and ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, an organization aiming to create a dialogue between Canada and the First Nations community. He was also an Honorary Witness to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2008 to 2015. 

“I definitely cannot underemphasize, I think, the importance of the various education calls to action,” said Naiomi Metallic, who holds the chancellor’s chair in Aboriginal law and policy at the Schulich School of Law. “They’re being implemented some places slower than others, but people are starting to push more and more. One of the beauties I’m seeing in some schools is people saying ‘no we want more, that’s not enough,’” Metallic said. 

Since beginning to review reconciliation in 2015, Dalhousie has not made any official announcements in implementing these four post-secondary specific calls. However, Dal has made several curriculum changes that consider reconciliation including the recent development of the JD Certificate in Aboriginal and Indigenous Law from the Schulich School of Law, which students can receive if they take specific Indigenous and Aboriginal law courses. 

“I’ve been working with the Law School on implementing call 28, which asks for law students to consider the history of Aboriginal and Indigenous law,” said Metallic in an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette.  

“We now have a mandatory course in Aboriginal law history that law students take, it’s an intensive course now but it could develop more,” Metallic said. Aboriginal law focuses on how the Canadian legal system impacts Indigenous communities, Indigenous law focuses on the legal systems of Indigenous communities, Metallic said.  

“I’ve been here since 2005, the discourse the thoughtfulness, the amount of students taking Indigenous or Aboriginal law-related courses because they’re genuinely interested in learning and finding out more is hopeful,” Metallic said.  

Metallic said representation is important as well, “When I was hired there were no other Mi’kmaq or Indigenous law professors, now there are three of us. Representation is going to be really important in seeing these calls to action through.” 

Call number 86 asks journalism schools to create mandatory classes on reporting in Indigenous communities as well. The University of King’s College journalism school has not followed this recommendation yet. 

“I’ve been disappointed with King’s journalism in the past. They’ve been doing more Indigenous hires recently which is good, but for a while, I would refuse to go in and speak to classes on treaties and Indigenous law because they would just do one brief class or talk on it and move on,” says Metallic. 

“Journalism can be really helpful if done well, sometimes the media can be the biggest purveyors of stereotypes. I’ve had pretty negative experiences with reporters just not doing the research or understanding the history of a situation they’re reporting on.” 

Tim Currie, president of the King’s School of Journalism, responded to the criticisms. “I think that’s fairly apparent that the media industry has not hired or educated its reporters to report on all Canadian communities in an effective way, or an appropriate way,” he said.   

The hire Metallic was referring to is Trina Roache, a Mi’kmaw journalist recently hired by King’s. She’ll be teaching a journalism course called 500 years of Indigenous history, that will focus on how reporting can negatively affect Indigenous communities. The course will not be mandatory, as call 86 suggests.  

“Most of our courses are generically titled, like foundations of journalism one or two, so we have typically allocated Indigenous history within these courses. This year, we’re in the process of undergoing a curriculum review where we’re examining how we might enhance the [Truth and Reconciliation].” 

Duties as individuals  

“I consider being involved in the process of reconciliation as a sacred duty, a sacred responsibility. Sometimes we forget that reconciliation absolutely starts with me, and it absolutely starts with you. It’s our personal, personal imperative to carry it out” said Chief Joseph at the beginning of the discussion.  

Joseph said doing meaningful land acknowledgments and learning about the history of the land around you is an example of this personal action, “it’s something that’s easily done, and just out of respect. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything. And we learn about each other, and we’re not going to reconcile unless we learn more about each other,” Joseph said.  

 “I know that one day we will have resolved all of those 94 [calls to action]. But if we don’t have a deep and serious discussion about who we are, what our relationships are when we think of each other, if we don’t have dialogue… we won’t make a better world.” 

Panellist Kimberly Murray, the executive lead for the survivors’ secretariat at the Six Nations of the Grand River, said, “reconciliation, to me, will be when my neighbour knows about what treaty area that they’re living in. Reconciliation, to me, will be when my neighbour can say good morning to me in my language. You know those are personal commitments that you can make as an individual.” 

 Various local educational resources exist to learn more about Indigenous land and about truth and reconciliation. Mi’kmawplacenames.ca is a website where you can learn the names and history of the land under and around Dalhousie University. The website of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre also has many resources and educational tools, and the centre itself, located on Gottingen Street, has a small library of resources on Mi’kmaq culture and history. 

Metallic said individuals should pursue activism as well. “The individual, beyond educating themselves and trying to do what they can in their own space, should also be pushing their governments and their schools. Demanding more than low-hanging fruit. Some of those things are good, things like land acknowledgments and flying flags, but there’s got to be a lot more along the lines of creating frameworks and mechanisms including legislation.” 

Student Abby Winters recently researched buildings around campus and found that four names, Alexandra Hall, the Forrest Building, the Tupper Building and the Kellogg Library, are named after figures with colonial and anti-Indigenous legacies. This was brought to the attention of the board of governors on Oct. 19, by the Dalhousie Student Union

“Renaming buildings, flying flags, these are really important symbolic gestures students can push for. But we also shouldn’t lose sight of those bigger systemic changes, like better curriculums and more faculty representation,” said Metallic. 

The recording of the panel can be watched online at the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance page of Dalhousie’s website: www.dal.ca/dept/maceachen-institute/events/TRC-panel.  

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Adam Inniss

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