McMaster University: Reflecting on advances in Indigenous education and research at McMaster

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day within National Indigenous History Month.

This is a time to celebrate the diverse experiences and cultures of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, but also to recognize Indigenous peoples and perspectives.

“McMaster is committed to embedding a diversity of perspectives and ways of knowing in everything we do,” says McMaster University President David Farrar. “We all have a responsibility to continuously learn more, listen more, and move forward together in the spirit of reconciliation.”

At McMaster, this work has included adopting and supporting the newly released Indigenous Strategic Directions, a campus-wide collective effort developed by the Indigenous Education Council (IEC) and McMaster Indigenous Research Institute (MIRI). The overall aim of the strategy is to enhance the visibility and impact of the Indigenous community on campus and further the University’s commitment to a culturally safe campus for Indigenous students, staff, and scholars.

To mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, two of the many leaders on campus advancing this work reflect on strides made to expand Indigenous education and research at McMaster over the past year.

Creation of the Indigenous Studies department
Entering its 30th year at McMaster, the Indigenous Studies undergraduate program is one of the longest-standing programs of its kind in Canada. Building on this strong foundation, the university approved the creation of the Indigenous Studies department, effective as of next week (July 1). The new department will be home to the Indigenous Studies undergraduate program, a planned graduate program, and research and community-focused activities.

Robert Innes, incoming chair of Indigenous Studies, says the department has one of the most dynamic Indigenous Studies research and teaching faculties in North America and will have the largest number of Indigenous faculty of any Indigenous Studies department in Canada.

“The department already offers a wider range of courses, however, as we grow, the faculty will explore ways to enhance the student learning experience,” says Innes. “For example, we will look at providing more experiential and service-learning opportunities that will give students hands-on knowledge and capabilities that provide them with the kinds of skills that will benefit First Nations communities and Indigenous urban organizations in southern Ontario.”

Innes adds that the department will also evaluate adding new courses, providing areas of concentration for students, and will leverage the existing level of faculty research activity.

“The faculty in the department will create and implement a graduate program that will produce cutting edge, critical graduate student research that is guided by our cultural principles, is ethical, and is beneficial to our communities,” says Innes.

Advances in research
Appointed director of McMaster Indigenous Research Institute (MIRI) last year, Savage Bear, formerly known as Tracy Bear, has worked with partners and the MIRI team to refresh the institute’s website, enhance existing programs and introduce new areas of work.

“[The past year] has been about building and nurturing relationships with internal and external individuals, organizations and stakeholders,” says Bear. “We have planned some community outreach to get a sense of direction and vision others have for MIRI.”

A world-class facility recognized for its leadership in the field of Indigenous research, MIRI is developing new partnerships while also building out the Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars program. Program participants take part in workshops and Indigenous Knowledge programming while contributing as research scholars under the supervision of a McMaster faculty member.

“The growth and nourishing of Indigenous undergraduate minds in order to take graduate studies is one of our primary goals at MIRI,” says Bear. “MIRI is building capacity right now so we can […] provide more mentorship for these students.”