Putting Indigenization at the heart of strategic planning

In recent years, a growing number of post-secondary institutions from across Canada have been implementing new strategies and initiatives with a goal to Indigenizing their campuses. But what does it mean to Indigenize, and beyond that, how does an institution know if it’s succeeding?  

For University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff, the ability to answer these questions lies in the hands of Indigenous communities. “We will know that we have made headway when Elders, when Indigenous students, when Indigenous leaders and Indigenous communities are telling us that we are,” said Stoicheff after the recent release of USask’s new seven-year plan, which places Indigenization at the top of its list of priorities. The plan is entitled The University the World Needs, and has been gifted the Indigenous names of nīkānītān manācihitowinihk (Cree) and ni manachīhitoonaan (Michif), which translate to “Let us lead with respect.”

“The world needs a university in which Indigenous concepts, methodologies, pedagogies, languages, and philosophies are respectfully woven into the tapestry of learning, research, scholarship, creativity, and community engagement,” the plan states, adding that these values are part of a broader commitment to “transformative decolonization” leading to reconciliation.

Among the plan’s goals will be making the university a provincial, national, and global leader in Indigenization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“There are many post-secondary institutions across this country that are working on reconciliation,” says Stoicheff. “But here in [Saskatchewan], we have to be a leader.”

To help answer the question of what Indigenization at the school will look like, the plan mentions specific commitments to hiring additional Indigenous staff, increasing the number of Indigenous students enrolled, building Indigenous knowledge into degree-granting programs, adding signage with Indigenous languages, and making Indigenous culture more visible on campus.

“Indigenization is one of the functional pillars of the university’s plan and is where we start to engage with the conversation of what that entails and how it’s going to unfold within each one of our units, within each of our colleges,” says USask’s Indigenous Engagement Vice-Provost Jackie Ottmann. “Now we get to engage and redress and repair in healing, not only as an Indigenous community but as a society in general. We have a responsibility as a university to engage in reconciliation and to promote Indigenization.”

One of the key pillars of the strategy involves Indigenous impact, a theme that has been shaped by Indigenous Elders, traditional Knowledge Keepers, and Language Keepers, who gifted the plan with its Indigenous names during a special ceremony on campus in August. Stoicheff noted at the plan’s unveiling that the university will also be looking to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations for feedback.

“Indigenization is not a separate commitment on its own. It runs through every single commitment that we have, and that's the university of the future,” says Stoicheff.

The university the world needs

Building on its commitment to Indigenization, the new USask plan pursues three core values, which are courageous curiosity, boundless collaboration, and inspired communities.

Stoicheff says that the plan also provides five key areas of impact that the university will look to bolster over the next seven years: transformational work leading to reconciliation, productive collaboration, meaningful impact, developing distinguished learners, and earning global recognition. Other goals include increasing enrolment to 28,000 students by 2025 (up from just under 25,000 this school year) and improving the school’s ranking in academics.

“We will be a university that not only trains students for the workplace, but prepares them for the challenges that the future workforce will face,” Stoicheff says. “Disruptive technologies are leading us to the point where we need to understand that we are training students now in skills for jobs that neither the students, nor we, can imagine. By 2025 we will be a university that is comfortable with disruption and comfortable with disruptive technologies, and that is also contributing to it in the research that it does. To that end, we will govern ourselves not only on the basis of what we want to be, but what the world needs us to be.”

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