The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) is alarmed at the detrimental impact the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) process is having on Indigenous studies, faculty, students, and the community in the Greater Sudbury area. As part of the CCAA process, the Indigenous Studies Department, its programs, and its faculty have been terminated. For students, this means the loss of Indigenous-centred, Indigenous-developed, and Indigenous-run degree programs. For the surrounding region, this means the loss of Indigenous leadership and educational opportunities for First Nations’ youth and an important educational hub.
The Indigenous Studies Department at the University of Sudbury, a federated university at Laurentian is a leader across North America. It was developed by and with Indigenous educators, Elders, and Knowledge Holders for the Indigenous community in Northern Ontario and beyond. Further, the Indigenous studies program constitutes an essential component of Canada’s commitment to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); reconciliation requires truth and uncovering truth requires education. Teaching Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from an Indigenous-centred place is essential for meeting our obligations under the TRC.
Students, faculty, and staff at the University of Sudbury’s Indigenous studies program have made vital contributions to Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and decolonization for Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. In addition, they have led the way as a model for Indigenizing the academy in support of Indigenous peoples and in fulfillment of the TRC’s calls to action.
The CCAA process and the Ontario government’s refusal to provide funding to support the Laurentian University Federation are actively jeopardizing the strong relationships built over decades between Indigenous communities in the North and the university.
Laurentian University’s decision to terminate the Indigenous Studies program under the CCAA process, effectively undermines the TRC’s calls to action and Laurentian University’s own tri-cultural mandate and commitment to the TRC. By allowing Laurentian University to cut this program, the Ontario government is failing in its commitment to the calls to action of the TRC.
Stand-alone, Indigenous-centred, and Indigenous-led programming is essential to serving the large and vibrant Indigenous population of Northern Ontario. Such programming provides necessary continuity to growing efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages and studies at the K-12 levels in the North, to allow students to continue this education beyond high school, and to allow students to remain in the North with their communities and in service of them.
The termination of the Indigenous Studies program at the Laurentian University Federation jeopardizes Indigenous education and revitalization beyond the postsecondary level, as it undermines students’ ability to continue their education and remain in their communities.
The provision of Indigenous studies education is about much more than providing courses. It requires an institutional competency at the centre of which are Indigenous faculty members and non-Indigenous allied scholars trained in the discipline of Indigenous Studies who design, plan, implement and carry out an integrated education along with fostering strong trust-based relationships with Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Holders, and community partners. Faculty at the University of Sudbury/Laurentian Indigenous studies program have done all of this and more, and they are essential in upholding the university’s tri-cultural mandate and relationships with Indigenous communities.
In announcing the termination of the Indigenous Studies program, Laurentian University President Robert Haché said that the university will provide students registered in the Indigenous Studies program with “access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives already on offer, mostly through Laurentian’s Faculty of Arts, in a range of disciplines.” Certainly, the provision of Indigenous Studies programs requires the active involvement of Indigenous Studies faculty, community, and students. The courses Laurentian intends to provide from an “Indigenous perspective” seem to fall far short of meeting these important criteria.
OCUFA is deeply concerned about the impact of the CCAA process on the Indigenous Studies program’s staff, students, and faculty, as well as Indigenous communities in the North. The historic injustices Indigenous people in Canada have been and continue to be subjected to, in addition to the chronic underfunding of postsecondary education and Indigenous education, mean that Indigenous students and faculty are disproportionately impacted by this process.
Providing Indigenous studies at Laurentian without Indigenous Studies faculty and without the strong, trusting relationships they have fostered over decades with Indigenous communities stands in opposition to the TRC’s calls to action. It would set a dangerous precedent for providing Indigenous education without Indigenous Studies professors who are at the core of Indigenous revitalization and resurgence in the academy and beyond. If Laurentian University terminates its Indigenous Studies program, it would be the first time an Indigenous Studies program has been shuttered since the discipline began in 1969.
By allowing this to happen, Laurentian University and the Ontario government stand on the wrong side of history. Yet it is not too late, the Ontario government still has an opportunity to rectify this.
Ontario’s provincial government needs to step in and provide long-term, stable funding for Laurentian University to ensure the continuation of its Indigenous studies program, for they are vital to Ontario’s North and are the Ontario government’s responsibility under the TRC’s calls to action.