How KPU is working to educate students, instructors, and staff about Indigenous culture and history

Indigenous community members share their thoughts on the university’s path towards reconciliation

Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation events will be held during a week-long series on the KPU Surrey campus. (Kristen Frier)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University takes its name after the Kwantlen First Nation and resides on the land which belongs to the Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Musqueam, Qay’Qayt, Tsawwassen, and the Kwikwetlem peoples.

The university has taken steps to educate the community on Indigenous peoples’ culture and history. Besides reciting land acknowledgements, KPU is looking to decolonize, and Indigenize all aspects of the university.

KPU recently hosted an event titled “Indigenous Dialogue Series: Perspectives on Indigenization.” The online panel discussion aimed to educate the KPU community on Indigenous peoples’ history, as well as publicly discuss “addressing historical and systemic wrongs, ensuring fundamental rights, and creating a present and future where Indigenous peoples can flourish,” the event page reads.

Dr. Steve Cardwell, Vice President of Students, says that over 200 people attended the event, and that there was a high level of participation.

Cardwell says the attendees had positive comments and feedback about the panel speakers and reconciliation, and looking forward, he says the plan is to continue hosting the Indigenous Dialogue event series. He says the new year would begin with looking at the next steps needed to make it happen.

“We are working with the Indigenous Advisory Committee on developing principles that we can use as a basis for how we might move forward with … an Indigenous strategic plan,” says Cardwell.

“With respect to moving forward on Indigenization and reconciliation, this is an important time for us. We look forward to partnerships and furthering our relationships with the First Nation communities, with the Metis Nation, as well as the urban Indigenous population in our region,” he adds.

Dr. Jo-ann Archibald Q’um Q’um Xiiem, from the Stó:lō and St’at’imc First Nations in B.C., was one of the guest speakers. Cardwell mentions Archibald speaking on the importance of reflecting on history and “understanding the challenges and the wrongs that have taken place over many years, with respect to Indigenous people.”

“I think [this is] important in terms of understanding reconciliation and Indigenous knowledge systems, Indigenous self-determination and rights, and ensuring high-quality education for Indigenous people,” says Cardwell. He adds that education is the way forward.

Samantha Jack from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation is a member of KPU’s Anti Racism Task Force. She was also one of the panel speakers. She had high praise for Archibald and says the event was a “really good experience.”

“It’s really meaningful to see that, as an Indigenous person. To see … the commitment being reflected for reconciliation and decolonization,” she says.

Jack says she thinks that KPU has taken initiative in pointing out the steps which need to be taken, and that the first step she’s observed is having conversations “about inclusion and not speaking on behalf of us, but bringing us up to the table.”

“I really appreciate how Indigenous voices are not only being heard, but, you know, Indigenous voices are often demanded to be at the table, in the best way possible.”

Jack points out some of the efforts she’s seen KPU take, which include the university making it a requirement for students to take an Indigenous studies course, “making efforts to have a continued and growing Indigenous Advisory Council,” diversity equity and the work of the task force on anti-racism.

Cardwell also says the institution has an Indigenous Advisory Committee, and their first meeting of the new year was held on Jan. 14.

KPU also works with Lekeyten, one of several Kwantlen First Nation Elders, who first began his role as Elder in Residence in 2015.

Though some in the KPU community might not be familiar with the role of an Elder in Residence at the university, Lekeyten’s works to support “Indigenous students on their educational journey sharing knowledge, traditions, teachings, and promoting an understanding and respect for Indigenous perspectives, cultures, and values.”

In terms of educating the KPU community, the faculty of Arts currently offers three Indigenous studies courses: Introduction to Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Perspectives on Settler Colonial Societies, and Indigenous Activism.

These courses educate students on the history of Indigenous peoples in their land, the realities of that land being stolen, and the current issues Indigenous peoples continue to face in Canada.

In addition to this, KPU currently has a Gathering Place at the Surrey campus. The purpose of the facility is to provide a welcoming space for students on campus, and to facilitate KPU’s Indigenous Services for Students.

The Gathering Place describes its goal as being a part of the school that “supports the social and educational activities associated with attending KPU in an environment that recognizes the important contribution of the Kwantlen, Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, Qay’Qayt, Katzie, and all other Indigenous Nations.”

While Jack says she is inspired to see that work for reconciliation is being taken seriously, more steps need to be taken. For example, she formed the Indigenous Student Council in 2019, after noticing there was a lack of any student organization that gave Indigenous students a “safe space for those conversations.”

“Students should be included at every table at every discussion,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s just more speaking on behalf of them and not doing that proper consultation.”

Jack also wants to more see changes made at KPU when she looks back years from now, like introducing a full department for Indigenous studies, and incorporating a space for Indigenous students to be able to practice their ceremony and “find rescue within colonial studies.”

Jack says she’s aware of the time this change will take but stresses the importance of taking those first steps.

“It’s great to see that we have so many allies within the university that are helping make that change, but that change doesn’t happen overnight, and it needs to be long-lasting, and for it to be long lasting it needs to have that good intention.”

Jennifer Anaquod is an Indigenous Studies instructor who just began teaching at KPU last year. She says some great things have been happening, and one thing to understand is “creating change within institutions … is a really long process.”

One of the important things about decolonization and Indigenization is meeting people where they are at, she says.

“Education has a long history of having systemic racism embedded in it, and I think institutions are doing a really good job kind of moving forward and unravelling it so that it’s not embedded,” Anaquod says.

She says she doesn’t believe a finish line needs to be created for decolonization and anti- Indigenous racism. “What we want to avoid is creating those checkboxes to say, ‘ok, we’ve done that we can move on,’ but that it needs to be an ongoing process that’s reflected on regularly.”

Anaquod wants education to go beyond offering Indigenous Studies courses. She wants Indigenous knowledge included in all courses. She knows it will take time, and wants instructors to be taught how to do it mindfully. She also says there needs to be an increase in the number of Indigenous faculty members in institutions across the country.

“You can feel the desire to make changes in the air,” she says. “The staff and faculty are excited about these changes. So I think lots of good things are on the horizon.”