When will we be ready? Sharing responsibility for Indigenous engagement in teaching and learning

On November 6, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology’s Indigenous Initiatives team partnered with the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies and the UBC Learning Circle to host a panel discussion which centered the voices and perspectives of Indigenous studies faculty members and leaders on the topic of sharing responsibility for Indigenous engagement.

This event is a follow up to a previous panel session hosted in 2017, which featured non-Indigenous, non-specialists instructors who had been working to bring Indigenous topics into their courses and shared their practices, challenges, and learnings.

In this discussion, panelists shared their experiences and practices on a variety of topics related to Indigenous content including: mandatory curricula, the roles and responsibilities of instructors, how disciplines across campus are integrating Indigenous content and reconciliation, and the impact of sharing responsibility on student learning.

Musqueam Elder Larry Grant, who is also the elder-in-residence for the First Nations House of Learning and an Adjunct Professor in the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, expressed that mandatory Indigenous curriculum is a double-edged sword. Canada has multiple Indigenous groups and languages. Elder Grant asked “Whose history do you tell?” He also conveyed the need to have more Indigenous representation amongst the university’s faculty, specifically that Indigenous faculty do not reflect the diversity of First Nations histories of B.C.

Candace Galla, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies, spoke about the importance of having both Indigenous and non-Indigenous faculty teaching Indigenous content. She noted that it is often graduate students,untenured faculty, and contract faculty that teach these courses, and they are often scheduled as add-ons in the curriculum. She concluded that “it is all our responsibilities to decolonize and transform our learning experiences at the University of British Columbia.”

Gordon Christie, Professor at the Allard School of Law, voiced how he is careful about framing where his perspective and knowledge on Indigenous topics comes from. He explained that some audiences assume that because he is an Indigenous professor, that he is an expert on all Indigenous topics and communities, but this is not the case. Professor Christie also spoke about the development of two mandatory Indigenous courses in the Allard School of Law.

Leah Walker, Associate Director for the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health, addressed how the Faculty of Medicine is preparing medical students and health professionals through different initiatives to support cultural competency and cultural safety, as well as through the UBC 2324 program to respond to Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. She added that, at this point, there is a real need for faculty development in order to better support Indigenous health curriculum delivery.

Coll Thrush, Professor of History, noted that UBC has been making efforts to support Indigenous students and to integrate Indigenous content for several decades, nevertheless, “this is not to say that we should be complacent.” He encouraged faculty to look carefully at how they are developing course syllabi, whose voices are being heard and whose voices are not represented. As a non-Indigenous faculty member who works in the area of Indigenous studies, he suggests letting students know that as faculty you are also constantly learning, that both students and teachers should never feel comfortable with the subject, but that we should accept our shared responsibility to teach and learn about it.

Daniel Heath Justice, Professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and English, reframed the question about the right to teach about Indigenous topics and instead addressed the fact that everyone has a responsibility to engage with Indigenous knowledges and reconciliation in the academy. He referred to Eve Tuck’s call to end damage-centred research, expressing that “the difficult issues are not the only things about being Indigenous, being Indigenous is being human […] we are a part of a long history of relationships.” He ended the panel by inviting the university to invest in generations of Indigenous students, making sure that they have access, support and encouragement so we can have more Indigenous scholars and practitioners in different fields in the future.

Following the panel, the audience was invited to participate in small group discussions on the following guiding questions:

  • What is the context for “mandatory curricula” related to Indigenous content in your department or Faculty?
  • What impacts does this have on you and colleagues whose focus includes Indigenous studies?
  • What are the roles of non-expert faculty to engage with Indigenous content and topics responsibly in their teaching?
  • What efforts are being made within your field to integrate Indigenous content and reconciliation? What is the significance of this?
  • What impacts does sharing responsibility have on student learning more broadly?

These discussions were documented and summarized. If you are interested in the findings, please contact CTLT Indigenous Initiatives. The event concluded with some reporting back from the discussions and with questions from the in-person and online audiences. Some questions for the panel included:

  • How can we better support teaching assistants in this work?
  • What resources are available to support department-wide professional development on these topics (a panelist referenced the MOOC Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education)
  • What are examples of successful to gain support from university leaders and administrators?

If you missed the panel discussion, or would like to revisit it, view the livestream of the event below.



The following resources provide further information on how to engage with Indigenous content in your courses as well as an update on the UBC Indigenous strategic plan.