Growing Indigenous Scholars

In most of our institutions right now we have an incredibly small number of Indigenous scholars. If we’re going to make real change in Indigenous health, we need to continue to work to address the structural inequality.” (Chantelle Richmond in CBC News, 2018).

The Native Studies Department at the University of Sudbury was established in 1977 in response to the 1968 Hall-Dennis Report on educational reform in Ontario. Recommendation 123 of the report called for the establishment of Canadian Indian Studies Institute in an Ontario university. The Native Studies Department was chaired by Dr. Edward Newbery. There were three Indigenous faculty members: professors James Dumont and Thomas Alcoze, and lecturer Edna Manitowabi. James Dumont, Onaubinisay (Walks Above the Ground), an Ojibway from Shawanaga First Nation, is credited for shaping the curriculum of the program through the creation of courses such as Tradition and Culture, Native Psychology, Native Way of Seeing, Native Education, and Issues of Indigenous Peoples in the International Context. In 2013, the Native Studies Department was renamed the Department of Indigenous Studies. Mary Ann Corbiere was added to the faculty complement in 1989.

The Native Human Services – Honours Bachelor of Social Work was developed in 1988 at Laurentian University in the Faculty of Professional Schools. Visionaries  Anne-Marie Mawhiney from the School of Social Work and Thomas Alcoze from the Native Studies Department presented the idea of a culturally relevant social work program that would provide social workers with the skills, knowledge and experience to work appropriately with Aboriginal communities to Chiefs from 22 Robinson-Huron communities. Mawhiney and Alcoze received support from the Chiefs to conduct community consultations on the development of a Native social work program. Funding was received from from Health and Welfare Canada to hire two individuals to carry out the consultations. Senate approval for the Honors Bachelor of Social Work was obtained in November 1987 (Mawhiney, Alcoze & Hart, 2014). The first students were admitted to the program in 1988. Five Indigenous faculty members were hired along with two support staff to deliver the program. This brought the number of Indigenous faculty up to nine between the two programs – the Native Studies Department and the Native Social Work Program.

The number of Indigenous faculty teaching at Laurentian has grown significantly since the 1980s. In fulfillment of the tricultural portion of its mandate, Laurentian University and its federated partner, the University of Sudbury, have now reached a critical mass of 24 full-time Indigenous faculty members teaching in Anthropology, Architecture, Education, English, Geography, History, Indigenous Social Work, Indigenous Studies, Labour Studies, Nursing, Rural and Northern Health, and Sociology.

Maamwizing Indigenous Research Institute

As the number of Indigenous faculty at Laurentian University continued to grow, these faculty members discussed developing a process where they could work more collaboratively together and out of this grew the idea of establishing an Indigenous research institute. Working together, Indigenous faculty members developed the proposal for the Maamwizing Research Institute which was submitted to the Laurentian University Senate in May 2016 and received Senate approval in September 2016. In this same year, Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade was appointed as the Inaugural Director of the Maamwizing Indigenous Research Institute.

Maamwizing is an Anishinaabe term that refers to bringing people together or collaborating together. Maamwizing is building a research community that brings together researchers who are studying Indigenous issues. The focus is on building collaborative community partnerships and designing research initiatives that are aligned with the needs of Indigenous communities. Maamwizing also plays a vital role in enhancing Indigenous research capacity by promoting research excellence and creating research opportunities for graduate students and new researchers to develop their research expertise, thereby enhancing research productivity.

In November 2016, the Maamwizing Indigenous Research Institute held its inaugural Maamwizing conference. This conference addressed issues related to Indigenous peoples within the educational system through three themes: diversities in universities (equity and hiring, leadership), ways of knowing (the place of Indigenous knowledge in the university curriculum), and decolonizing universities (Indigenous pedagogies, ways of teaching, reconciliation). Additionally, this conference provided a forum for Indigenous researchers to share information about the work that they were doing and an opportunity for students to increase their expertise and build their confidence in being able to conduct research. This conference is one way in which Indigenous researchers are engaged in making systemic or transformative changes within university systems. Indigenous researchers are making inroads in that they are challenging anthropological interpretations of what ‘research’ is. Indigenous research, as a field, considers the roles and responsibilities of Indigenous researchers in service to Indigenous communities; the integral participation of and leading contributions of Indigenous communities in the research agenda; as well as the promotion of Indigenous researchers. It is through initiatives such as this that opportunities are created for people (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) to learn more about and understand the challenges facing Indigenous researchers thus contributing to efforts on both sides for reconciliation.

Canada Research Chair – Indigenous Health

Indigenous scholars at Laurentian University are supported through the creation of a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Indigenous Health. The Inaugural Chair for this position is Dr. Jennifer Walker, a health services researcher and epidemiologist with Haudenosaunee family roots from Six Nations of the Grand River. The CRC in Indigenous Health works collaboratively with individuals from different disciplines.

One of the goals of the CRC in Indigenous Health is to work with First Nations and Métis communities and organizations to ensure Indigenous use of Indigenous health data for health services and policy planning. There are two significant changes with respect to Indigenous health data. First, there has been a shift in the application of administrative health data from a western deficits-based perspective to an Indigenous-based lens that views wellness from a holistic perspective and that takes into consideration the historic and contemporary effects of colonization on the social, political and economic realities in Indigenous populations. Secondly, data systems have been developed to enable Indigenous-governed organizations to use Indigenous-identified data in their work. These are important developments since research and surveillance using Indigenous health data can now be carried out through an Indigenous lens, which benefits the overall wellbeing of Indigenous people and communities.

Learning Activities

  1. Why is it important that we have Indigenous scholars working in western academic institutions?
  2. How are Indigenous scholars contributing to meaningful change in Indigenous education? What are some examples from your area?

Expanding your Knowledge

  1. For more information about the development of the Native Human Services Program read the following chapter by Mawhiney, A.M., Alcoze, T., & Hart, R. (2014):
    Mawhiney, A.M., Alcoze, T., Hart, R. (2014). Like ripples in water: 1980-1986. Native Social Work Journal, 9, 11-28.
  2. The following website contains a video interview with Dr, Jennifer Walker, Canada Research Chair – Indigenous Health:
    Dr. Jennifer Walker
  3. The following CBC new article also contains a video which describes the Indigenous-led health training network launched by Western University in London, Ontario. This launches Ontario’s first Indigenous-led health training network. This network will link the efforts 13 universities and 70 researchers and community collaborators.
    Western University launches Ontario’s first Indigenous-led health training network
  4. In 2006, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) took on “Kaninakitchik Esquaywuk” – Women Leading the way project which focused on Leadership Development Training and Personal Capacity Building. The video for this project describes the impact that the training had on women in the community and how these women used these skills to make change in their community.  Take some time now to watch the video.
    Kaninakitchik Esquaywuk – Women Leading the Way
    1. What difference did “Kaninakitchik Esquaywuk” – Women Leading the Way make for the NAN communities? Describe how this initiative is contributing to re-emergence of traditional knowledge and culture. What other strategies can be put into place that support the re-emergence of traditional knowledge and culture?
    2. What is the traditional role of women? How did the “Kaninakitchik Esquaywuk” – Women Leading the Way project contribute to the revitalization of the traditional role of women?


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