In 2017, Nehiyaw scholar Dr. Shauneen Pete visited the Grenfell and St. John’s campuses to discuss Indigenization and decolonization.
While noting the richness and diversity of Indigenous peoples, she observed, “We’ve all been structurally denied the opportunity to learn these histories.”
This is a fairly universal reality.
Historically, students have made their way through school systems, even on to graduate degrees, without encountering any substantive curriculum related to Indigenous peoples. Where Indigenous content does appear, it is presented primarily from non-Indigenous perspectives.
When I began studying the discipline of history, I recall a basic discussion on how “things that happen” become historical facts. What information is recorded, what is saved, what is shared and what gets cited all plays into what is remembered, and what is forgotten, in collective memory. This is not a revelation, but it is important in reinforcing that the dominant narrative in any given region does not reflect a collective understanding of the past, making it very difficult for those whose stories have been left out of the mainstream record to find their way into that collective memory, especially through their own lenses. One small way that this is attempted is through the setting aside of days or months to commemorate particular histories.
In Canada, June is National Indigenous History Month. It joins other months such as Black History Month and Women’s History Month in highlighting the things that happened that never made it to mainstream records, and therefore never ended up in school curriculum. It is a corrective to the snowballing of erasure. In that spirit, I share a couple of things that happened that some already know, but others may be surprised to learn.
In 1949, when Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation, Indigenous peoples were left out of the Terms of Union. Although several discussions took place during negotiations, and provisions were detailed in early drafts, successive drafts slowly removed mention of Indigenous peoples, until the final draft contained no mention at all. For those unconnected to Indigenous histories, this may seem like a “so what” issue, but for Indigenous peoples in this province, it is a pivotal moment that remains so today.
One of many effects of the pencilling out of Indigenous peoples from the Terms of Union was that in 1951, when the federal government set out to do a census of Indigenous peoples across Canada, Indigenous peoples in this province were not approached and were not counted. It put Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador into a different state of being compared to their Indigenous counterparts across Canada. This was soon realized and groups in the province began to organize, leading to decades of work toward recognition. So when you see groups still negotiating with the federal government, or having debates around identity or recognition, you might think about these two things that happened and how that might change some of what you understand about history in this province.
At Memorial, the Strategic Framework for Indigenization (SFI) identifies Indigenization as “starting with the truth, and understanding and recognizing our colonial history,” and as “a process whereby Indigenous people bring Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing into spaces that are not designed for those ways.” These things that happened are part of that truth. In my new role as interim director, Indigenous engagement and reconciliation, a primary focus is the implementation of the SFI through four strategic priorities: Leadership and Partnership; Teaching and Learning; Research; and Indigenous Student Success.
Each of these priorities requires working together and starting with conversations as basic as discussion around the things that happened. This takes time. It takes support. Indigenization is a long-term objective with many interrelated steps woven through the strategies outlined in the SFI.
Stay tuned for communication from the Office of Indigenous Affairs on our implementation plan and consider how you or your unit might best support Indigenization efforts at Memorial.