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Long-term vision

A Q&A with Memorial’s new Indigenous education specialist

Campus and Community

By Ryan Howell

Memorial is pleased to welcome Kelly Anne Butler in the new position of Indigenous education specialist, housed in the Office of Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

Ms. Butler comes from an academic background in comparative Indigenous studies primarily across the Americas, and has been working in Indigenous affairs roles for many years, including at Grenfell Campus since 2015 until taking on her new position at the St. John’s campus.

Ms. Butler talks to the Gazette about what she hopes to achieve in the position, the strides Memorial is making towards reconciliation and misunderstandings in Indigenous academia.

RH: Tell us a little bit about yourself.  What is your background?

KAB: My mom was Mi’kmaw, from Seal Rocks, on the West Coast of the island; my dad was Irish-American, stationed at Harmon air base in Stephenville in the ’60s. My brother and I grew up moving around with the military, and today I am fortunate to live here permanently.  I grew up knowing I was Mi’kmaw and am very thankful for that.

RH: Can you talk about why the Indigenous education specialist position was created and what you will be doing?

KAB: This new role is actually a re-tooling of the previous role of Indigenous cultural education co-ordinator. Shifting that into Indigenous education specialist is a reflection of the movement toward implementation of the Strategic Framework for Indigenization.

Previously much of the work around education was done in the form of guest lectures, where a unit might put in a request to have someone come visit a classroom or even the unit itself, and offer a talk on a specific topic or theme.

“We are now at the point on the journey where … one-off requests become fewer and fewer, as units begin to build capacity themselves.”

That type of engagement was certainly part of the journey, but we are now at the point on the journey where the work shifts toward building capacity so that one-off requests become fewer and fewer, as units begin to build capacity themselves, in part through professional development opportunities that I am developing.

This includes the creation of educational modules around the histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples; assistance in course development; feedback on course outlines; and the creation of a cache of resources to aid units and individual instructors in finding the work of Indigenous scholars in various fields, challenging dominant assumptions around knowledge and pedagogy, and so on.

It’s also important to note that my work in this role is not limited to faculty but is for everyone in the university community.

RH: What do you hope to achieve in this role?

KAB: Indigenization is a long-term project, so the first thing I hope to achieve is to help everyone get a sense of how long-term this really is, that the “how” of all of this is what really matters, and that can take time.

All of these terms — Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation — they each have a history and meaning behind them, but they can also be co-opted and used in ways that are harmful, especially when purely performative actions are described using one of these terms.

“Our experience and our pathway at Memorial University is rooted in this place, in the lands and the peoples and the histories in this province.”

At Memorial, the Strategic Framework for Indigenization takes time in its initial pages to discuss in detail what Indigenization means, and what it entails.

It’s important that I help everyone keep sight of the “how” and not let it lose to the “what.” The “how” cannot be achieved unless Indigenous people are leading.

I also hope that my work contributes to capacity-building across Memorial, so that units are eventually equipped with the resources, and comfortable in them, to work with Indigenous people in integrating Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing into the every day work so that we are no longer simply adding content here and there. This is a long-term vision.

RH: What would you like to see Memorial do as it strives for reconciliation?

KAB: We have taken important action toward reconciliation; most recently the passing of the Strategic Framework for Indigenization.

One thing I’d like to see the university do is continue to proceed with humility in acknowledging that while we have made some strides, we still have a very long way to go.

“I’ve had questions from people in computer science, biology, engineering and other disciplines.”

I’d like to see continued listening to Indigenous people, including those of us who do this work every day and have the benefit of living in Indigenous communities as well as within the university. We are fonts of both traditional and institutional knowledge. Continue listening to us.

Finally, while it’s helpful to know and learn from what other universities are doing in this area, our experience and our pathway at Memorial University is rooted in this place, in the lands and the peoples and the histories in this province.

I believe we have leadership that understands this, so I hope this continues to be prominent in the messaging. This is not a sprint — it’s a marathon.

RH: How can Indigenous education be incorporated in all disciplines across the university?

KAB: One of the misunderstandings around Indigenous education is the idea that it only involves disciplines that specifically relate to Indigenous Peoples, histories or cultures in terms of content.

I’ve had questions from people in computer science, biology, engineering and other disciplines where integrating Indigenous education may not be seen as obvious.

But in every discipline, there are Indigenous scholars out there doing amazing work that could be incorporated. As well, there are Indigenous communities engaging in all of this work, just perhaps not using the same language to describe what they are doing.

Finally, how a person teaches or engages in research might be the way Indigenous education gets incorporated into a course. So, in any discipline, a person can find Indigenous scholars in their field and can also educate themselves about Indigenous pedagogies and Indigenous research methods.

Anyone from any discipline should feel free to contact me to have a chat specific to their course or program.

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