UBC Vancouver: UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan funding sees student projects get off the ground


Successful student recipients of the Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (ISI) Fund have been given the green light to start implementing their proposed Indigenous-focused, student-led projects with the backing of university funding.

​​The Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Fund is a cross-campus initiative at the UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan campuses. The Fund directly supports the advancement of the eight goals and 43 actions of the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP).

In its inaugural year, the Fund amalgamates two years of funding for a total of $4 million across three funding streams. Successful student-led stream projects will receive up to $50,000 each for 12 to 18 month projects.

Funded projects from across both campuses include:

Creating professional development opportunities for Indigenous students at the UBC Okanagan campus in science, engineering, technology and mathematics programs
Fostering an environment that increases Indigenous engagement within the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC
Organizing writing retreats for Indigenous graduate students and faculty
Expanding First Nations collaborative education, development, advocacy, and research through the creation of an online hub for students, researchers, and the larger UBC community to enact reconciliation, on Indigenous terms
Establishing community amongst Indigenous Masters of Physical Therapy students in the context of learning about healthcare within an Indigenous scope
Creating a better understanding of Indigenous food security in Syilx Territory food systems and finding opportunities to revitalize and promote traditional knowledge
Mitigating the health risks associated with ecologically unsound environments and revitalizing Indigenous ecological knowledge and practices in the DTES via community gardening and community education.
“There’s still a clear need to improve the student experience for Indigenous students at UBC, both inside and outside the classroom,” says Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot, senior advisor to the president on Indigenous affairs, Canada Research Chair of Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, and associate professor in political science and the UBC school of public policy and global affairs.

“Funding student-led projects enables students to make even more of a difference themselves, supporting one another through meaningful and necessary work while building a path that will improve these experiences now and in the future. This kind of funding is rare yet crucial so we are encouraged that the university has committed to invest in this area,” adds Dr. Lightfoot.

In addition to the student-led fund, the two other funding streams are Innovative (Stream One) and Transformative (Stream Two). Successful submissions for the Innovative and Transformative streams will be announced in September, the same month as the two-year anniversary of the Indigenous Strategic Plan launch. There is also a one-time-only Special Fund created to fund graduate research, temporarily filling an unmet need associated with the unique costs of Indigenous community-based research.

As part of the process, UBC students were invited to submit a proposal – including a budget request – by January of this year. Applications were reviewed by an adjudication committee who made funding recommendations to the Indigenous Strategic Plan Executive Advisory Committee and the Indigenous Strategic Plan Coordinating Committee.

Prof. Santa J. Ono, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor

“When we launched the Indigenous Strategic Plan nearly two years ago, we hoped it would provide guidance and inspiration for the UBC community and beyond. Being able to invest in our commitments and enable student-led projects to come to life and have a genuine impact in our communities is a crucial step in the process of advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples as well as the journey towards reconciliation.”

Dr. Lesley Cormack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC’s Okanagan campus

“UBC Okanagan was founded in close partnership with the Syilx Okanagan Nation, with a shared commitment to offer educational opportunities with and for Indigenous communities. This ISI funding is an excellent example of that commitment in practice—supporting Indigenous-focused research, development and engagement projects across UBC.”

Adrienne Vedan, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on Indigenous Affairs, UBC Okanagan

“In 2019, UBC Okanagan pledged to support Indigenous students, culture and scholarship through a public declaration of five commitments in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The ISI Fund projects are an important component of delivering on these commitments and Indigenous Strategic Plan. They are a testament to the innovative and community-driven thinking of students, faculty and staff and partners across the Okanagan.”

Vicki Lynne George, Associate Director, Office of Indigenous Strategic Initiatives

“It has been exciting and encouraging for me to be part of such meaningful reconciliation at UBC including the university’s commitment to advancing Indigenous human rights and the Indigenous Strategic Plan. It has been a long journey to this point for a lot of people. I was a student at UBC and was involved in the development of the Aboriginal Strategic Plan in 2008 so I know firsthand how far we’ve come but I can equally see how far we have to go and how necessary it is that we do this important work.”

Student-led project lead quotes
Alexandra Thomas, undergraduate student at UBC-V, majoring in Forestry Resources Management and minoring in Community and Aboriginal Forestry. Alex has Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry on her mother’s side and Coast Salish on her father’s side.

“As summers on the Downtown Eastside get hotter, residents – many of whom are unhoused – spend a great deal of time outdoors with few trees and limited access to greenspace.

This funding allows us to help mitigate urban heat island effects and collaborate with external partners including the City of Vancouver and traditional Indigenous knowledge holders to bring our vision of community building through communal green spaces to life. It will mean community members can root themselves in Indigenous practices, culture and connection to the land, have more options of shade and cooler temperatures, and it’ll provide food and medicines to be harvested and returned to the community.”

Sarah Buffett is a Cree Métis graduate student researcher completing a Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies at UBC Okanagan. Sarah has been a guest on ancestral and unceded Syilx/Okanagan territory for 12 years.

“The socio-economic realities of rising food prices and increasing urbanization across the Okanagan Valley mean this work is coming at a crucial time for our community members.

The Indigenous Strategic Initiatives funding enables us to ultimately build capacity towards increased food sovereignty based on community reflection and a workshop series focusing on food security in the Okanagan Valley. This project will contribute to a growing body of research through community-led engagements that assert the value of traditional food knowledge to modern context.”