Universities tackle Indigeneity fraud during Indigenous identity forum

 By Shari Narine

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Indigenous students, staff and faculty may be required to check a box on their university application forms giving universities permission to investigate asserted Indigeneity by speaking with their communities.

“It’s adding layers of accountability,” said Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann, president of the First Nations University of Canada and co-chair of the newly-created National Indigenous University Senior Leaders’ Association (NIUSLA).

“Self-identification isn’t working and the one reason that it hasn’t worked is because it goes against that relationality, that community connection that most Indigenous peoples are very familiar with,” she said.

Ottmann spoke to media via Zoom during the second day of the two-day virtual National Indigenous Identity Forum. The forum was closed to media.

The 40 or so universities that comprise the NIUSLA invited Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, staff, students, scholars, and academics to “develop tangible processes and wise practices that ensure Indigenous-specific university opportunities are rightfully given to those who are truly representative of Indigenous communities and experiences,” according to the news release announcing the forum.

As more funding, including scholarships and grants, is available for Indigenous students and faculty members, there have been more fraudulent claims of Indigeneity, said Ottmann.

“We’re not so much talking about Indigenous identity as we’re talking about Indigenous citizenship. When you are engaged in citizenship then that really does speak to community and relationships with people in community. It is knowing who you are, where you come from, and what your responsibilities are and, in many cases, that has to do with community again,” she said.

Ottmann stressed that lived experience is more important than a Metis or status First Nations card.

Lived experience becomes particularly meaningful as Indigenous faculty members help to set policies and lead research.

As for students, Ottmann said there needs to be a “reciprocal relationality.”

For students who are estranged from their Indigenous communities “if you are going to benefit in one way or another from your Indigeneity then there’s that reciprocal (relationship) ? What are you going to bring to the table? That reciprocity is important and how do we encourage some of our Indigenous students who may be estranged to learn their stories? A lot of this can be done in kindness,” said Ottmann.

Tackling the issue won’t be easy as there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work, she said. However, forum-goers agreed that local Indigenous communities must be part of any process established by universities in verifying Indigenous citizenship.

To engage local Indigenous communities, capacity and resourcing within those communities will have to be built, said Ottmann.

Along with ticking a permission box on the application form, there was discussion about amending or changing collective bargaining agreements and university standards to recognize Indigenous methodologies and pedagogies in hiring practises; strengthening the admitting processes for the low number of Indigenous students that universities find themselves vying for; evaluating existing systems; considering policies that would address prior instances of fraudulent identity; and developing policies that would look at future hires.

“The solutions need to be contextual because Indigenous communities need to take ownership of these processes in collaboration with the university,” said Ottmann.

She anticipated solutions would be more regional in nature than national.

Featured speakers at the forum included Ottmann, University of Alberta’s Dr. Kim Tallbear and Dr. Chris Andersen, and Queen’s University Chancellor Murray Sinclair.

Ottmann said future forums will be opened to other organization and non-Indigenous people.

Shari Narine  is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the   Windspeaker.Com . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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