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Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in N.L. and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Indigenous Peoples worldwide. This theme coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week 2017: Building Reconciliation taking place at Memorial from March 20-24.

By Mandy Cook

A member of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai and an academic, Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek combined her culture and her scholarship when she wrote Colonized Classrooms.

The book, based on interviews with Indigenous students and professors at universities from across the country, reveals that Indigenous Peoples studying and working in Canada’s post-secondary institutions are still experiencing colonial violence, or racism, on a daily basis.

Dr. Cote-Meek, associate vice-president, academic and Indigenous programs, at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., will deliver the keynote address at the official opening event of Memorial University’s Aboriginal Peoples Week: Building Reconciliation on Monday, March 20. Here, she speaks with Gazette editor Mandy Cook.

MC: Colonized Classrooms analyzes race, trauma and resistance in post-secondary education. What, essentially, were your findings?

SCM: Essentially, my main finding is that racism still persists and is one of the main challenges that Indigenous learners face in obtaining a post-secondary education.

MC: What message in particular do you want the audience to hear during your keynote address on Monday night?

SCM: One of my messages is that I believe that reconciliation is possible, but it requires much work from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples cannot do this work on their own, nor should they be expected to.

MC: To move towards real reconciliation in our post-secondary institutions, you say educators need to recognize how longstanding colonial practices have profoundly affected Indigenous Peoples. How, exactly, are these practices embedded in Canada’s educational systems?

SCM: Colonization can be defined by four key concepts. Colonization is about taking land and resources; colonizers came with a specific ideology about Indigenous Peoples; it was violent; and, finally, it is still ongoing. Colonial practices are rooted in these four key concepts. Specific to post-secondary education, my research describes how deeply embedded stereotypes (racialized constructions) of Indigenous Peoples are still embedded in the system. These are evident in some of the comments made to Indigenous students, for example.

MC: You say that sustained reconciliation requires attention to the larger systemic structures of universities and of society as a whole and that for these changes to be sustained over the long term, efforts need to be directed at looking “below the surface.” What do you mean by that?

SCM: Looking below the surface requires understanding how systemic racism operates within a system. Polices and everyday practices often go unnoticed but can be exclusionary to groups of people. In order for long term changes to occur in a system, attitudes and beliefs about Indigenous Peoples must be changed.

Dr. Cote-Meek will present the keynote address for Aboriginal Peoples Week: Building Reconciliation on Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in IIC-2001, Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation. The event is free and open to the public. Everyone welcome. 

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