As the key driver of economic and social mobility in Canada, universities and colleges have a unique role to play in supporting reconciliation.

It’s why last month together with Yukon College our Re-Code program hosted a first-of-its-kind gathering entitled “Perspectives on Reconciliation.” Over 7 days, 31 Canadian post-secondary institutions gathered to discuss the roles they play in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and to share ideas on how they can all do better. 

The idea for this Institute was born out of a question:

How can we take the important and inspiring work that our colleagues are doing in universities & colleges across the country, and use that as a catalyst and accelerant for reconciliation efforts on our own campuses?

With the aid of the host First Nations — Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Carcross/Tagish — Presidents, senior leaders and Reconciliation leads, set out to hear best practices, have honest conversations and lay the foundation for how to accelerate and deepen reconciliation work within their own institutions, as well as the wider post-secondary sector.

Participants all agreed that relationships are at the heart of this work. But what does that mean in practice? At some institutions it means ensuring that your Reconciliation lead is part of your senior management team and has a direct channel to the President, at others it might mean that every Senior Executive has Reconciliation as part of their performance review, and at still others it means integrating Indigenous ways of knowing into research practices and Indigenous ways of being into campus’ physical spaces. And finally at some institutions, it might mean all of the above, or something else entirely. Context matters, and when done well, Reconciliation looks different at every institution and every community.

Foundational to all of this work is effective engagement with Indigenous communities that leads to partnerships and relationships that have mutually beneficial outcomes. Yukon College demonstrated this with their partnership with First Nations in the Yukon to create and deliver a Yukon First Nations 101 a course for Yukon College staff, faculty, students and external organizations. You can learn more about what lessons and best practices —  including updating missions statements to include reconciliation and re-examining policies that create barriers for Indigenous students — other post-secondary leaders are considering implementing at their institutions in this recent CBC article about the Institute.

As one participant said “start anywhere. Just start. It’s not gonna be perfect. We’ll learn lots from the things that don’t go really, really well. In fact, I think we learn more from mistakes than we do from things that go amazing, so just start.”

In the coming months we will be sharing our report, and in the meantime, if you want to know more, please do not hesitate to reach out to Chad and Kelly from the Re-Code team.