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Jan. 29, 2019

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Unsettling the settlers: Principles of a decolonial approach to creating safe(r) spaces in post-secondary education” published in the American Journal of Community Psychology has emerged out of my experience of teaching, research, and community engagement in the area of Indigenous rights. It is a reflexive paper on decolonizing the academy written collaboratively with Darren Thomas, a doctoral student/full time instructor of Indigenous Studies, and Jackson Smith, a Laurier graduate who is a consultant with Indigenous communities.

The article provides insights on a relational approach to decolonization drawn from community psychology theories of empowerment and depowerment and our shared experience of teaching and learning at Laurier. My Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded research on Indigenous Rights and Resource Governance examines intercultural understandings of the principle of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) within resource governance and promotes community friendly access to information through www.FPIC.info. A most surprising and unexpected aspect of this work was being selected as a finalist from nominees across Canada for a national SSHRC Impact award which recognizes the importance and impact of this work.

In building upon the reflections of this article on “creating safe/r spaces in postsecondary education” my next research program, funded by Global Water Futures, is working in partnership with Matawa First Nations, and researchers from Laurier, Lakehead and Laurentian universities. We are conceptualizing a multi-university educational partnership that will advance Indigenous access to postsecondary education through an innovative Indigenous focussed water science program with the potential of contributing to the decolonization of both postsecondary education and water science.

The key message I hope readers will take away from reading the article is that we need structural change to create Indigenous developed programs, courses, curricula, with a greater percentage of Indigenous faculty and staff on campus. These two factors – structural environmental changes within the institution and the intentional hiring of more Indigenous faculty and staff – will provide the institutional climate for developing safe(r) Indigenous spaces with a shift in power and resources based on respect for Indigenous Peoples’ worldviews and knowledge contributions within the academy.

In terms of impact, I hope the article will contribute towards a deeper understanding of the relational nature of decolonization along an axis of power and the intersection of individual and system change essential to advancing the decolonization of university campuses in keeping with the wider national goal of reconciliation. Significantly, in following the four principles of decolonization as outlined in the article we hope that readers will be inspired to reflect upon colonization and decolonialization with a commitment to building increased personal and professional capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect in keeping with the TRC’s Call to Action #63.

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