Indigenizing PostSecondary Curricula with Indigenous Curriculum Specialists: A Pilot Collaborative Study at University of Ottawa

Co-Applicants: Karine Vanthuyne, Geneviève Gauthier & Nicholas Ng-A-Fook

Research Team: Melissa Daoust (Research Assistant)

Duration: 2021

Funding: Social Science and Humanities Research Council Connection Grant


Decrying that postsecondary attainment in Canada for Indigenous peoples was only 8% compared to 20% of the non-Indigenous population (Statistics Canada 2013), Indigenous scholars began to call for “Indigenizing the academy” starting in the early 2000s (Mihesuah & Wilson 2004). The Calls for Action released by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 led to the commitment of Universities Canada (an organization regrouping 97 universities in Canada) to close that educational gap, stimulating further programmatic, curricular, and policy reform in higher education institutions. Yet, the outcomes of these calls, commitments, and transformations remain uneven (Gaudry and Lorenz 2018), begging the question about the contextual factors linked to the meaningful Indigenization of universities’ curricula. Within the last few years, higher education institutions have begun to hire Indigenous Curriculum Specialists (ICSs) to support their administrators and faculty in developing or improving Indigenized curricula – i.e., programs, courses and pedagogical practices that meaningfully include and value both Indigenous perspectives on existing disciplines, and the teaching and learning practices identified by Indigenous knowledge keepers as best suited to respectfully and most proficiently transmit them – such as landbased initiatives. However, the impacts of ICSsled interventions in postsecondary institutions have never been assessed, nor have the challenges and opportunities they present for a variety of institutional actors, as well as the various resources, knowledge, skills, and incentives that are believed to be required to implement them, been documented.

In response, we propose to assess these impacts and document these contextual factors by building on years of partnered collaboration with the University of Ottawa’s Indigenous actors closely involved in implementing Universities Canada’s commitment on our campus. Through employing ethnographic, participatory action research (PAR), social network analysis (SNA), and integrated knowledge transfer (IKT) methodologies, we will bring to light the complex interrelationships between ICSsled initiatives, attitude and behavioural changes, contextual factors sustaining them, and Indigenized curricula. Our sustained engagement with our Indigenous research collaborators will also allow us to produce relevant and actionable knowledge from their perspectives and Indigenous peoples’ more largely. Ongoing critical assessments of our project’s design and knowledge mobilization strategies will, moreover, significantly contribute to enhancing research capacities on ways to eliminate the symbolic and material inequities that continue to feed deeply learned divides between Indigenous peoples and the non-Indigenous population in Canada and beyond.

Indigenous and other racialized groups in Canada are increasingly pressuring our educational institutions to challenge, disrupt, and where possible eradicate settler colonialism and ongoing institutional forms of systemic racism (for ex. Henry and al. 2017). Our focus group discussions with all stakeholders will promote rarely seen but much needed dialogues between higher education policymakers, universities’ administrators, ICSs, academics, and Indigenous communities and groups. In so doing, it will ensure the optimal knowledge uptake of our findings by the governmental and nongovernmental actors involved in building truly inclusive, decolonized campuses. Such campuses proactively acknowledge the traditional territories they sit on, through engaging in renewed relationships with their Indigenous guardians – that is, relationships grounded in reciprocity and shared authority and responsibilities.

* This project is supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council Connection Grant with Karine Vanthuyne, Geneviève Gauthier and Nicholas Ng-A-Fook as co-applicants. Click here to view more SSHRC funded projects.