Western will host the eighth annual Building Reconciliation Forum next week, bringing together experts and those eager to learn under the theme “Education for Reconciliation: Rebuilding stronger and with intentionality.”
From oral histories and workshops to artistic performances and an evening concert, the forum will “facilitate a sharing of knowledge and experience” among Indigenous and academic leaders.
Created by Universities Canada in response to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the forum is hosted by a new institution each year.
“The forum provides a national opportunity to convene post-secondary institutions – together with Indigenous people from across Turtle Island – to share promising practices to building Truth and Reconciliation through education,” said Christy Bressette, Western’s vice-provost and associate vice-president (Indigenous initiatives).
“Colleges and universities have a responsibility to help break down barriers that exclude and marginalize. The goal of this event is to further positive relationships and understanding between Indigenous Peoples and the wider society.”
Learning from Indigenous communities
Four themes guide the work of the forum:
- Indigenous knowledges as a framework for reconciliation and education sovereignty
- Moving forward towards the next seven generations: Innovations and resiliencies
- Indigenous initiatives and equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization and Indigenization
- Indigenous knowledges and sustainable development
The first day, June 26, is a “pre-forum” day to celebrate initiatives from local Indigenous organizations and groups, including visits to Oneida of the Thames First Nation and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
Presentations planned for June 27 and 28 are varied, from reconciliation through filmmaking to Indigenizing climate change teachings to Indigenous healing spaces inside hospitals.
“The Building Reconciliation Forum is an important opportunity for post-secondary and Indigenous leaders from across the country to gather and work together to address critical issues surrounding Indigenous education. Promoting opportunities for Indigenous students and advancing truth and reconciliation remain top priorities for Canadian universities,” said Philip Landon, Universities Canada’s chief operating officer.
“I look forward to the meaningful and lasting change that will stem from this forum.”
Advancing reconciliation in higher education
The Building Reconciliation Forum began in 2015 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and its 94 Calls to Action, some of which are focused specifically on educational systems.
Universities Canada launched the forum as a platform to bring together leaders from across the country, including representation from Indigenous communities, universities and colleges, to advance reconciliation work in the field of higher education.
Reconciliation is a priority for Western and the members of its campus community. It is identified as a key pillar of the university’s overall strategic plan, Towards Western at 150. A dedicated Indigenous Strategic Plan was also created in 2016, with reports issued annually to track its progress.
The Office of Indigenous Initiatives leads decolonization and Indigenization work at Western, including efforts that touch curriculum, long-term planning and university policy.
Western invests in Indigenous faculty members and students each year with recruitment efforts, scholarships and research programs such as the Head and Heart Indigenous Research Fellowship and the National Indigenous Scholarship Program.
“Western is committed to providing a progressive educational environment, through a process of unlearning and re-learning, that welcomes and celebrates Indigenous people, knowledge, values and perspectives. This will happen through the decolonization and Indigenization of spaces, curricula and the Western learning experience – a process that will take time but that is definitely underway,” Bressette said.
The Building Reconciliation Forum is so popular that it has already reached capacity for in-person seats, however virtual registration for June 27 and 28 is still available. Volunteers are needed and those interested can apply online to help at the forum.