Geography professor Chantelle Richmond stressed the upcoming Winter School in Indigenous Cultural Competency is not about telling people ‘this is how it’s going to be.’ Rather, it will be about building new and lasting relationships.
“The Winter School is about building understanding and laying out the story so people can understand how contemporary realities are shaped by bigger processes we don’t understand,” said Richmond, an Anishinabe scholar from Pic River First Nation. “Assumptions and values we take for granted in our everyday lives come from somewhere, and they come from our colonial history. The Indian Act is so pervasive in everything in our society, we just understand it to be true. Part of the role is to put human faces to that reality and cause people to think about how and why we got to where we are today.”
Scheduled for Dec. 12-13, the two-day Winter School, limited to 40 faculty members from Main Campus and the Affiliated University Colleges, will be led by cultural competency trainers from the First Peoples Group, based out of Ottawa, and includes in-class learning along with a visit to a local First Nations community.
The idea originated with Western’s Interdisciplinary Initiative (IDI) in Applied Indigenous Scholarship, a newly funded initiative (2016-19) to help support the implementation of the university’s forthcoming Indigenous Strategic Plan through teaching and research initiatives. Western’s Indigenous scholars led the IDI, including an interdisciplinary team that represents eight faculties, as well as Brescia University College, Indigenous Services and Student Experience.
Richmond said the Winter School is a way of “opening doorways for people that have not felt they could go there.”
“We are building that for people to get a greater understanding about Indigenous issues in Canada,” continued Richmond, who holds cross appointments in First Nation Studies and the Department of Family Medicine. “We’re not expecting expertise. It would be wrong to assume two days would make one qualified. We’re simply trying to build a more empathetic community so people can think about, more critically, their own practices in the classroom.
“There is a real diversity of Indigenous people and learners on campus. We need to be careful about our assumptions and how we deliver information we are given. The purpose is to make Western a place where everyone can succeed regardless of who they are.”
Richmond also continues her work as part of the Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee, which has shaped the university’s Indigenous Strategic Plan. That document will be presented for approval to the Board of Governors on Nov. 24.
Richmond said everyone at Western appreciates the effort made in creating the strategic plan, but in particular the Indigenous campus members who have been centrally involved in seeing it through. The next task will be implementing the plan, which Richmond said creates an institutional framework and memory for what needs to be done at Western.
“It’s been about visioning, talking about where we want to go, what do people think is missing at Western and how can we start to build the guiding principles to implement the things we deem important,” said Richmond, who lauded the community guidance from more than 700 individuals within, and external to, Western in creating the plan.
“It would be really bad in this day and time if we weren’t doing something. It’s not just educating future leaders, but it’s educating ourselves and recognizing that we all have an important role to play.”