University of Winnipeg Faculty Association

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Transforming the Academy: CAUT Aboriginal Academics Conference  

Adapted for the UWFA News by Tracy Whalen, UWFA Secretary

The most recent conference of Aboriginal academic staff discussed a host of challenges that face Aboriginal faculty in postsecondary institutions. For instance, Aboriginal female faculty often feel they have to prove themselves; universities do not always provide a non-threatening environment; Aboriginal faculty, both female and male, are not given the same status as other faculty. Aboriginal faculty are expected to sit on every committee involving Aboriginal students or communities and expected to remain involved in the community, an important value. However, fulfilling community responsibilities can threaten promotion and tenure.
The meeting also raised questions around curriculum and teaching evaluation. How can academics include Indigenous knowledge? Who will evaluate how one teaches Aboriginal Indigenous knowledge, particularly when it comes time for tenure applications? How will Aboriginal instructors be compared to other faculty? How can universities include Elders as faculty? How does one teach administration the significance of Indigenous knowledge?
The meeting also brought suggestions, however. One suggestion was to adopt the SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Grad Enhancement) program from The University of British Columbia. There, graduate students are encouraged to find mentors; there is also an annual symposium where they present their research. Other universities might develop similar opportunities to mentor junior faculty. Universities could provide assistance with proposal writing and grant applications. This conference raised many concerns, but progress was also made in terms of future initiatives.