Concordia Answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
Two Special Advisors Hired to Develop Indigenous Programs at the University
As special advisors to Concordia provost Graham Carr, Elizabeth Fast and Charmaine Lyn are excited about the opportunity to engage with Indigenous staff and students, in response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action.
“We’re ready now to meet with students,” said Fast, who is a professor in the department of applied human sciences at Concordia. “We’ve just gotten started, but we’re ready.” Fast is Métis and Mennonite, and she identified her priority as a special advisor as listening to and learning from the needs and experiences of Indigenous students.
Fast and Lyn will work closely together during their three-year mandate, and their first task is to assemble a small leadership group that will seek direction from the Indigenous community.
“That includes looking at what’s already being done in the university and trying to identify where we can take action,” said Lyn, who is familiar with community-driven projects. She is the only non-Indigenous member of the team. “As a person of colour, that’s not insignificant to me,” Lyn said.
In August, Lyn came to Concordia to take on the role as senior director of the Office of Community Engagement, where she “promotes and develops partnerships between the university and community.”
Before Concordia, Lyn worked at McGill as the director of admissions for the Faculty of Law, and later, for the Faculty of Medicine. In both roles, she had explicit mandates to build programs that surveyed the entering student body populations, identified underrepresented groups and found solutions.
“I did a lot of concerted work on Indigenous health curriculum, recruitment work of Indigenous students to medical school and health programs, worked on our selection process, and tried to make it more inclusive and welcoming,” Lyn explained.
Inclusion is at the core of Lyn and Fast’s work as advisors. They will work closely with the leadership group, made up of Indigenous staff and students, and communicate and mediate between the community and the administration.
“We want to come to a common goal and speak the same language about where we want to go,” Lyn explained.
Another part of their responsibility, said Fast, was to ensure that Concordia is a good place for Indigenous students, and that “they want to come here and stay here, that the classrooms are safer, and there are more support services.”
Available in January, the group’s website will be a place for community members to help shape the response to the call to action.
“I’m hoping that it will be a vehicle for us to communicate with the public,” said Lyn. “What we’re trying to do is enlarge the circle of conversation.”
Gathering and exchanging ideas is but a start. In September, both Fast and Lyn joined provost Graham Carr at a two-day national forum at the University of Alberta, where they learned about the various initiatives other universities have implemented in response to the TRC.
Carr had just been named provost the day before the forum and was inspired by the steps that other universities have taken across the country. Upon his return, he spoke about the need for action at the opening of the new Future Imaginary Lecture Series.
“Here at Concordia, while we are doing a number of positive things in Indigenous space, we are a long ways behind where many other universities are in other parts of the country,” said Carr.
The University of Alberta have recently hired 20 Indigenous faculty, Fast shared. “They’re putting their money where their mouth is.”
The University of British Columbia recently established a section in their Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology to help Indigenous students find resources. Last November, The University of Saskatchewan hosted the first Building Reconciliation National Forum.
Today, the team at Concordia is ready to move forward as quickly and carefully as possible. “We know there’s attention that needs to be paid to student support, curriculum, pedagogy, physical spaces, the presence of cultural practices and the revitalization of language,” explained Lyn.
The advisors emphasized their roles as both a vehicle and a tool. “It’s not up to the two of us,” said Fast. “We want to take our direction from the leadership group,” who will in turn be taking direction from Indigenous experiences and perspectives.
But Fast recognized that there might be barriers to reaching their goals. “Students might feel intimidated,” she said. “They don’t know us.” Over the next few weeks, Fast and Lyn want to change that by welcoming students to reach out to them.
Soon, the leadership group will be ready for meetings and the chance to build new relationships. Once the website is launched, communication and updates will be more readily accessible.
The call for action has been answered at Concordia, and it is only the beginning.