Commentary  Letter: a McGill story

On June 17, one of my classes started a 3-part  “Indigenous Policies” unit.  

Our instructor facilitated the first session, which was a review and discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. 

Very quickly, I felt moved to speak up. 

I suggested to our instructor  the need for Indigenous facilitation in discussing Indigenous issues. It is an act of reconciliation to defer to the Indigenous voice and perspective; and would honour the expertise and wisdom of Indigenous facilitators who professionally deliver reconciliation workshops. 

I also mentioned pre-surveys as an example of best practice. This would allow the presentation to be adjusted in tone and content.  For example, if the majority of students would benefit from more history or information. Or, the class might be farther along in their awareness, and could focus on a deeper dive into reflection and daily practices in Allyship. 

The instructor’s response was that the Dean had also asked about the pre-survey, checking in with instructors on how they are delivering TRC focused discussions. Our instructor told the class he didn’t need a pre-survey because he “could handle anything that came up”

 

What came up? 

In the first unit, we had an unfortunate and inappropriate mix of elders sharing 60s scoop traumas, with uninformed voices declaring that “disproportionate rates of Indians in jail are all due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” What makes it inappropriate is the fact elders are encouraged to “share” their stories of surviving residential schools, with no guarantee of a safe container.  In our third unit, we had a classmate ask: “What does TRC” stand for? This was after having been assigned to read the report as pre-work, and after three units and two Indigenous speakers. 

 

Why pre-survey? 

  1. To know where the class is: does the class need more history/information? Are they beyond that, and working on self-awareness regarding bias and assumptions? Are they Indigenous or Indigenous-allies and focusing on championing change in their workplaces, needing discussion around how to do that?
  2. To break into groups if there are big differences – some groups may need very elementary information, while others were Indigenous and should have the opportunity to share a session without hearing stereotypes or offensive terminology. 
  3. When Indigenous participants are involved in these conversations, there is a mental health component. Do we know what impacts happen after the class ends, after a residential school conversation? Do they have mental health and emotional supports in place at home? 
  4. Part of reconciliation is deferring to Indigenous voices. To me, this means these conversations should have only had Indigenous facilitation. 

I didn’t file a complaint, although other students in the class mentioned to me in the Zoom session chat bar that they did plan to. I felt listened to during class when I raised these points. And I wanted to wait and see if the second session did have skilled, relevant, and trauma-informed Indigenous facilitation.  

While I was happy to hear two Indigenous speakers describing their career paths, it might have been more relevant to bring in Indigenous facilitators who work specifically on cultural safety, cultural humility, and reconciliation workshops for schools, government, and organizations. 

At the end of the third session, I asked one of the guest speakers if she did present these types of workshops, and it turns out her department for municipal government does. I commented to the class that I would have loved to hear that presentation… I feel like this is a planning shortfall, not a reflection on her presentation. 

We did not meet our learning outcomes for the three units, I did not feel like we learned how to incorporate any learning of TRC calls to action in our workplaces, lives, or as individuals. 

I emailed our instructor and our administrative coordinator Robyn Clark, who forwarded my thoughts to the director of Indigenous Relations, Dr. Carmen Sicilia. Our instructor did not respond to any of the emails, and Robyn Clark offered to arrange a meeting with Dr. Sicilia to discuss ”tailoring for adult learners.” This is not what is needed. 

What I’m requesting is that McGill hires instructors who have the awareness to know when to defer to Indigenous voices, and to take care to not insult the 50 percent Indigenous cohort with this class’ extreme lack of diligence around creating safe spaces. 

Though I was disappointed by the outcome of speaking up on this issue, there are also positive outcomes. My classmates have emailed and messaged me, thanking me for speaking up. I have never felt more validation of the essential nature of my work.

In the spirit of moving forward for everyone, I’d like to share one of many available resources. Aside from journalism and storytelling, I also work with IndigenEYEZ, a non-profit project of MakeWay, formerly Tides Canada. IndigenEYEZ provides youth empowerment camps, facilitator training, and “ReconciliACTION” workshops for schools, First Nations communities and businesses.]

Thank you for your attention, I do hope some change can be made. 

 

Miigwetch. Merci. Thank you. E’mote~ here in the North Salish Sea. 

Odette

 

This letter is published as submitted to the McGill Daily with minimal editing for clarity.

Odette Auger is Sagamok Anishnawbek through her mother. She is a McGill student attending the Public Administration & Governance program. She is also a Indigenous Health reporter for Vancouver Island as part of the government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative. Auger’s other work has ranged from project management and fundraising, to youth facilitation and program design, to podcast storytelling. 

Editor’s note, July 8: the names of the Indigenous guest speakers have been removed at the author’s request.