February 1, 2023
Controversial academic meets noisy resistance at U of L after school halts planned lecture
Frances Widdowson appearance came after week of pushback from students, faculty
CBC News: Controversial academic Frances Widdowson showed up at the University of Lethbridge on Wednesday, following a week of pushback from students and faculty and despite officials saying earlier in the week that they would not provide her official space to speak.
Widdowson was invited to speak by a faculty member last week, spawning a large outcry. That prompted university officials to halt the speech, but Widdowson said she still planned to show up. She did so late Wednesday afternoon, but was met in the university’s atrium by a large, mostly antagonistic crowd of hundreds of students and others who had gathered in anticipation of her appearance.
“She shouldn’t be here!” exclaimed one student to cheers, prior to Widdowson’s arrival. “There’s no room for hate on this campus!” said another.
The former Mount Royal University (MRU) professor made headlines in 2020 when she said the Black Lives Matter movement had destroyed the university and that there had been an educational benefit to residential schools. The crowd booed and shouted as Widdowson arrived. She was largely drowned out by the crowd but did engage with some attendees as she moved through the atrium.
She attempted to move to another building on campus but was also met with resistance, and eventually had to leave. In an interview, Widdowson said though the event was “unruly,” she never felt threatened. “Unfortunately, it was an attempt, again, to use the heckler’s veto to stop the discussion from happening,” she said, suggesting that “identity politics” had taken over universities.
After leaving the university on Wednesday, she delivered a lecture via web conference, largely sticking to the same subject matter, focusing on “woke-ism” and her view of academic freedom.
University president says 700 people participated
In a statement, Mike Mahon, president and vice-chancellor of the university, wrote that 700 students, staff, faculty and community supporters had participated in the protest. “Another large group attended a lecture on the importance of truth before reconciliation. Tonight’s events were a coming together of our community to show support for each other and a reflection of the values of the University of Lethbridge,” Mahon wrote.
“I would like to express my sincere appreciation to our community members for conducting themselves in such a peaceful and powerful manner.”
The appearance was due to take place the same day the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a statement criticizing the U of L decision, writing that it raised “serious concerns about the University of Lethbridge’s commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom.”
“Dr. Widdowson certainly does raise disturbing and provocative questions. While many profoundly disagree with her, a university should welcome controversial speakers and vigorous debate, not seek to restrict discourse or speakers,” wrote CAUT executive director David Robinson.
Widdowson’s planned appearance to give a talk entitled “How ‘Woke-ism Threatens Academic Freedom” at the U of L was halted after days of pushback from faculty and students. Two petitions had received more than 2,500 signatures demanding the speech be cancelled. The university had previously said it planned to let the lecture proceed, citing its policy on free expression, though it noted it did not agree with Widdowson’s views.
“I think there’s an acceleration of woke-ism in universities, which is what, ironically, what my talk was going to be about,” Widdowson said in the interview, alleging that universities have moved away from working through points of disagreement intellectually, as opposed to emotionally.
Her controversial 2020 comments prompted more than 6,000 people to call for her firing via a petition. She was dismissed from the Calgary institution in late 2021. In early 2022, MRU said that while it was committed to fostering expression and free speech, it said academic freedom “does not justify harassment or discrimination.”
On Tuesday, Alberta’s advanced education minister said new steps to “strengthen free speech”on post-secondary campuses would be announced in the near future. The same day, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called that position “troubling” given the high proportion of Indigenous students that attend the U of L.
Opinion divided on speech
Kristine Alexander, co-director of the Institute for Child and Youth Studies at the U of L, said she was dismayed when she learned that one of her colleagues — Paul Viminitz, who works in the philosophy department at the university — had invited Widdowson. “Right away, I started hearing from students who believe, as I do, in the body of evidence-based inquiry, and to understand that we need to have truth before there can be reconciliation in Canada,” Alexander said.
“I would say that, basically, that the claims that she makes are based on, I would say — it’s generous to call it maybe a misreading of evidence, a selective misreading of evidence.” With that in mind, Alexander invited Dr. Sean Carleton, a professor in the department of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba, to provide an alternative lecture to the Widdowson event.
Student Elijah Crawford, who is studying history, said he was disappointed to hear Widdowson was due to appear on campus.
“I think from the student body it’s been a very good reaction so far in at least attempting to support Indigenous students at the school,” he said. “I think the university has been doing its best during this extremely distressing period in our history.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ose Irete is a photojournalist and reporter at the CBC Lethbridge bureau. He has covered migration, sports, and music. He hopes to one day eat junk food in every country in the world.
July 5, 2022
BC, Fed. Govt., MB, ON
How Commonwealth universities profited from Indigenous dispossession through land grants
The Conversation – Animated by social movements such as #RhodesMustFall and #BlackLivesMatter, universities today have entered a period of critical self-reflection on their histories. The renaming of campus buildings, removal of statues and re-branding of whole universities are all evidence of this trend towards uncovering higher education’s colonial legacies.
Yet this emphasis on campus iconography, or even on the campus itself, skirts a deeper history of universities and empire. Most public universities founded in the 19th century — especially in what is now Canada, the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand, but also in South Africa and Australia — were large-scale landowners.
Land for endowment capital
Public universities received substantial tracts of expropriated Indigenous territory from their governments that could be leased or sold to generate endowment capital.
Divided into plots and parcels distant from the universities themselves, these lands covered millions of acres. Financing universities through land brought these institutions into the arena of settler-Indigenous land contestation. This is the subject of my research.
Some of this history has been excavated in the recent and influential investigative journalism project, Land-Grab Universities, created and led by historian Robert Lee and journalist Tristan Ahtone.
It locates the public lands, belonging to tribal nations, apportioned to U.S. states to fund universities under the Morrill Act of 1862. Almost 11 million acres would eventually come under educational stewardship, more land than exists in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware combined. (A million acres is roughly equal to 4,050 square kilometres.)
Land rents to fund universities
Settler societies around the world, especially those under British rule, relied upon the dispossession of Indigenous groups to fund institutions of higher learning.
What made land-granting an attractive financial strategy for universities? First, young colonial legislatures had little available capital. Allocating land as a substitute for coin currency (specie), in the hope that it might increase in value, was pragmatic.
Using land rents to fund universities also followed a longstanding pattern established by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Settler societies carried on this custom on a larger scale. As early as 1619, the British government assigned 10,000 acres to endow a “Henrico College” in Virginia. Warfare with the Powhatan Confederacy, an Indigenous alliance of Algonquian-speaking Peoples, and underpopulation ensured that this institution was short-lived.
University of Toronto
Across British North America, later Canada, three universities collectively received at least 500,000 acres permanently and over two million acres temporarily.
Records held by the University of Toronto show that, in 1798, the Provincial Legislature of Upper Canada set aside 549,000 acres of land — an area three times larger than the present-day Toronto — for the “maintenance of various educational establishments, including a University.” About 225,000 acres eventually went to University of Toronto’s predecessor, King’s College, in 1828.
These land parcels spread over much of Upper Canada, although the majority of them were situated south of Georgian Bay in districts known to settlers as “Midland, Newcastle, Home, Gore and London.”
As the contemporary Indigenous land map “Native Land Digital” acknowledges, these southern parcels fell within the traditional territories of the Mississauga Ojibwa, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Attiwonderonk (Neutral) Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have an enduring presence on these lands today.
Other Canadian universities
A few decades later, Manitoban legislators endowed their provincial university with 150,000 acres of recently dispossessed Indigenous land. By 1891, the University of Manitoba used its own “Land Board” to manage this property.
In British Columbia, the province’s University Endowment Act(1907) reserved up to two million acres for a body of higher learning.
The University of British Columbia, founded in 1908, exchanged this land for 3,000 acres of more valuable, unceded Musqueam territory near Point Grey in 1920. Today, this land is a provincially run, unincorporated community named the University Endowment Lands.
Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, South Africa
In the Southern Hemisphere, government officials in Aotearoa New Zealand relied on land endowments for nearly all their colonial universities.
Most land transfer from Māori tribes to European occupiers took place between 1840 and 1890. These years were, not coincidentally, these islands’ most significant periods of development in higher education. About 500,000 acres moved from Maori communities to the eventual colleges of the University of New Zealand. As of 2019, the University of Canterbury remains one of the country’s top public landowners.
Read more: Explainer: the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi
While university promoters in Australia and South Africa first relied on mineral profits (especially gold) before looking for institutional funding via land, certain universities still received significant land endowments.
Under its Act of Incorporation in 1874, the University of Adelaide gained 50,000 acres in South Australia’s Tatiara and Wirreanda districts. Mining magnates such as Cecil Rhodes, meanwhile, offered gifts of land to young South African institutions.
Universities reshape environments
Globally, universities gained the permanent use of over 15 million acres — a landmass about triple the size of Wales — of Indigenous land by 1910. This is a conservative estimate that includes at least a million permanent acres in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Financing universities through land made these institutions no small piece of the process of Indigenous dispossession. In addition, new public universities later institutionalized branches of knowledge like agricultural science whose products, both intellectual and technological, reshaped surrounding environments.
Inventions such as seed varietals and mining technology profoundly transformed landscapes.
They also diverged from Indigenous ways of being and thinking about land, while simultaneously entrenching settlers’ relationship to the land — actions that have had lasting political and ecological legacies.
Exploring university landholding reminds us that the mechanisms sustaining empire and settler-colonial structures aren’t always obvious. In the 19th century, using land to fund universities was a fragmented, but far-reaching, pattern of institutional development.
It’s a pattern that deserves further exploration — not only for what it might reveal about universities, but for its potential as a window into the operation of empire, colonialism and Indigenous dispossession.
September 13, 2020
Racism at USask
CBC – More than 200 people have signed an open letter demanding more respect for Indigenous knowledge and faculty in the University of Saskatchewan’s college of education. The letter follows revelations that at least nine Indigenous faculty, as well as other senior Indigenous staff, have recently departed the U of S in frustration. The letter, signed by current and former faculty, alumni and others, says the U of S college of education has historically been a leader in First Nations and Métis education, but that things are going backward. It refers to a “toxic culture” and “climate of fear” inside the college. It says Indigenous faculty who left, and many of those who remain, “did not feel supported and were fearful of speaking out against the present administration’s harmful attitude, policies and practices. “It says Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who spoke out were “targeted.” It also accused U of S administrators of “exploiting Indigenous education by using it for public recognition while scaling back on necessary resources.”
Concerns include the following:
- Indigenous faculty, staff and students facing institutional and individual racial hostility
- The limits placed on academic freedom
- The impact on public education across the province, in particular for marginalized students and community members that face a violent settler colonial context
- The climate of fear and the silencing of people who shared concerns about the administration’s policies
- Allies supportive of Indigenous faculty and staff have been targeted
- The lack of ethical hiring practices and appointments through nepotism
- Some key positions in Indigenous education have been dissolved
- Exploiting Indigenous education by using it for public recognition while scaling back on necessary resources
June 6, 2021
Global News – A statue of Egerton Ryerson at Ryerson University, which was pulled down earlier Sunday evening by demonstrators, will not be “restored or replaced,” the university said Sunday. “The question of the statue was only one of many being considered by the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force, whose mandate includes consideration of the university’s name, responding to the legacy of Egerton R erson, and other elements of commemoration on campus,” read university president Mohame Lachemi’s statement.
June 2, 2021
Toronto Star – On May 11, Ryerson University’s First Nation-led research centre, Yellowhead Institute, issued an open letter announcing that their students and faculty would be swapping the school’s current name with “X” University in their email signatures and on social media. This is the firmest action taken by the department that has long denounced the university’s affiliation with Egerton Ryerson, whose beliefs are widely credited with the establishment of what became the residential school system.
Yellowhead Institute’s letter was in response to the “Standing Strong” task force, an independent group created by the university to complete expert historical research on Egerton Ryerson, while consulting with the community on how to address his statue on campus and other ties to his name…However, the Yellowhead Institute says it’s not enough…From an Indigenous student perspective, it cannot be reconciled.” Meanwhile, the Ryerson school of journalism on Tuesday announced that their masthead publications would be changing their names after the 2020-21 year following a unanimous vote at the school council meeting on May 18.
April 27, 2022
Ryerson University gets new name
Toronto Star: In a historic gesture toward reconciliation, Ryerson University is rebranding itself as Toronto Metropolitan University, cutting its connection to the man considered to have laid the foundations of the residential school system.
The new name came after years of advocacy by staff, students and community members.
In 2021, the school embarked on a renaming process following years of calls for it to drop its name. This also followed a summer of protest by students, advocates and Indigenous leaders, which led to the toppling of Egerton Ryerson’s statue on Gould Street after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a Kamloops residential school in May last year.
Ryerson, a Methodist minister and superintendent of schools for Upper Canada, was the architect behind the 1847 Ryerson Report, which laid the foundation for residential schools in Canada. The residential school system saw Indigenous children taken from their families in an attempt to assimilate them at government-funded, church-run schools that often abused and starved children and led to thousands of deaths.
Over the past year, more unmarked graves have been identified by authorities across the country, and there have been discussions on how to memorialize these sites.
Last June, 18 Indigenous faculty at the university wrote an open letter that called on the school to change its name. The letter called for “removing the face and name of a symbol of oppression, violence and pain.”
While there is a sense of relief that the Ryerson name is being stripped from the school, some Indigenous faculty and students say the renaming process has been challenging and caused harm to the very groups the name was hurting. “I’m happy the name is getting changed. That’s part of what we wanted,” said Anne Spice, a professor of Indigenous environment knowledges at Toronto Metropolitan. “But the way that this has been done feels really disempowering for the Indigenous people that have been organizing to make this change happen.”
Spice said the school did not consult extensively with Indigenous faculty and students who pushed for a change, and there’s been a lack of transparency about how the name was picked, including what names were on the short list. “The self-congratulatory tone that the university is taking is disturbing to a lot of us who’ve been involved in this work,” she said. “It feels like a brand exercise.”
In an email, the university said it engaged in a three-week-long public survey that polled the entire community on the most “critical elements” of the renaming process. It said the school remains committed to implementing all recommendations from the Standing Strong Task Force.
“The name just really reflects how they are trying to distance themselves and really remarket the university,” Howden said. “They just took it upon themselves to have these conversations behind closed doors, with very particular, curated individuals, to decide.”
The renaming process is occurring amid a reckoning with Canada’s history of colonialism and racism that has brought up discussions of who society should be honouring. Other institutions and organizations like the Toronto District School Board are engaging in renaming processes that have also been mired in concern from community members about ensuring a renaming is done fairly.
April 30, 2023
Teachers in Six Nations ask Canadians not to forget impact of federal strike on Indigenous students
1,100 kids in Six Nations have been out of school since April 19
CBC News: As the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strike continues, students at the five federally run elementary schools in Six Nations of the Grand River face another week without class. The five schools — Jamieson Elementary, J.C. Hill Elementary, Emily C. General Elementary, I.L. Thomas Odadrihonyani’ta’ Elementary and Oliver M. Smith Elementary — are run through Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), whose employees are among the 155,000 union members who have been on strike since April 19.
The strike has put more than 1,100 grade school students in Six Nations out of class.
“If this were in a big city like Hamilton, and all the kids in Hamilton were not going to school, it would be a focal point,” Benjamin Doxtdator, a teacher in Six Nations and PSAC member, told CBC Hamilton. “As an Indigenous person and as a teacher of Indigenous students, it feels like another case where Indigenous issues in Canada are invisible.”
Outside of Six Nations, one other school, in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, near Belleville, Ont., is being impacted by striking teachers, according to ISC. The strike also affects a significant portion of the national capital’s largest employer, disrupts about 30 departments and affects a range of services, including processing of income tax returns and passports.
- Indigenous Services warns of service delays tied to federal workers strike
- Hundreds of Hamilton CRA workers picket as part of massive Canada-wide public service strike
PSAC employees are striking over wages, job security and remote working options. As of Sunday, the federal government had offered the workers a nine per cent raise over a three year period. The union had initially demanded a 13.5 per cent wage increase over three years but has said it has lowered its demand twice, though has not confirmed by how much.
On Sunday, PSAC said it has “made some progress on our wage demands and job security,” but that negotiations continued, according to a message posted on Twitter.
If the strike continues, teachers from Six Nations said they expected to be back on the picket line Monday morning.
Teachers expected back on picket line Monday
Lenora Maracle, a Mohawk language teacher at Oliver M. Smith Elementary, told CBC Hamilton there were around 100 people picketing in the community on Friday. She said she hopes the strike will make the federal government “realize the importance of its workers and start on treating us better.”
Doxtdator said he is frustrated the strike has gone on for almost two weeks. “I fully support the union. I think the union is essential to workers having rights and to workers making making progress and having fair wages,” he said. However, he added, he thinks the union should also be talking about the impact the strike is having on Six Nations children.
- What you need to know about the PSAC strike
- Federal worker strike puts 1,500 students in Ontario First Nations communities out of class
“The PSAC strike has impacted our Six Nations of the Grand River community and has the Six Nations of the Grand River elected council concerned for all of our members, students and families,” elected Chief Mark Hill said in a press release April 19.
Zarah Malik, a media relations officer with ISC, told CBC News, “officials will continue working with First Nation leadership and families to ensure students are provided with opportunities to continue their learning during the labour disruption.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cara Nickerson, Cara Nickerson is a journalist with Ontario’s six local news markets: CBC Hamilton, CBC Windsor, CBC Sudbury, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, CBC Thunder Bay and CBC London. She covers all topics, but has a special interest in reporting on social issues and community events.
April 11, 2023
University ethics boards are not ready for Indigenous scholars
Ethics review processes routinely impede Indigenous academics’ research with Indigenous communities.
Nature: I am a Nlaka’pamux woman of mixed ancestry who works on the reclamation and revitalization of Indigenous food systems at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Being an Indigenous, tenure-track assistant professor is something to celebrate.
I was aware that many barriers to my success awaited me as I began my academic appointment. My Elders, friends and family openly worried because I was embarking on a journey in academia, an institution that is a symbol of colonization shrouded by a history of extractive and harmful research on Indigenous Peoples.
Partly because of such harmful practices, research-ethics committees have become a norm in many parts of the world. As an Indigenous woman, I wholeheartedly support these structures. But I did not anticipate that the ethics board at my own institution would become a barrier to my research.Weaving Indigenous knowledge into the scientific method
Despite many ethics boards attempting to decolonize, for example by accepting and considering Indigenous research methodologies (A. Hayward et al. J. Empir. Res. Hum. Res. Ethics16, 403–417; 2021), their processes and assessment criteria are still created mainly for non-Indigenous researchers. They don’t account for our years of developing trust and nurturing relationships in ways that go well beyond ordinary research partnerships; nor do they respect the extensive knowledge and cultural awareness we bring to our work with Indigenous Peoples. When we enter the campus, we carry with us our communities and established relationships of kinship, friendship and service. Ethics boards do not seem aware of the harms they can inflict on these relationships by imposing requirements that alienate us from our own People.
We need institutional research-ethics review processes designed specifically for Indigenous scholars conducting research alongside Indigenous communities. Anything else is colonialism masquerading as inclusion. Even if Indigenous scholars are included in their development, the ally-centric lens of ethics boards subjects academics like me to culturally inappropriate gatekeeping of my research.
During my PhD, I interviewed an Elder for a research project with a non-Indigenous graduate student. As our knowledge-sharing session began, the student pulled out a research release and participation form mandated by her ethics committee, explained what it was and asked the Elder to sign it. He immediately complied. But when I pulled mine out, he physically flinched and shook his head, “No. We don’t do this.”Indigenous knowledge is key to sustainable food systems
He was right. We don’t do that. For me to require an Elder to sign something can be disrespectful. Pulling a document out just makes me, as my auntie put it, “one of them” — a non-Indigenous researcher.
Similarly, current standard requirements of ethics committees — such as providing the exact questions that we will ask Elders and knowledge keepers, and having fixed research objectives and methodologies — are not consistent with our ways of knowing. But this led to challenges with our ethics board: draining phone calls providing crash courses on Indigenous research methodologies to the many staff members I was repeatedly passed on to. My research was seemingly held hostage until I complied to colonizing it. We need room for the reflexivity and the relationality of our world views, the ability to respond to changing community needs and to honour community values and protocols.
Reaching out to other Indigenous colleagues, I realized that I was not alone. Some described giving up on research projects entirely after ethics boards required culturally inappropriate revisions to their applications. Others suggested ways to get around the review process.
Let Indigenous academics stand before our co-researchers — our Indigenous communities — and be wholly and solely accountable to them. The ethics of research projects between Indigenous researchers and Indigenous communities should be reviewed only by those communities. The mathematics of Indigenizing research-ethics processes is not simply one of addition — adding inclusive policies and diverse perspectives. It must include subtraction: it means giving up control.For better science, increase Indigenous participation in publishing
This would not give Indigenous researchers a free pass on research ethics with Indigenous communities. Indeed, our accountability is greater. Breaking trust is the worst thing that could happen: it brings shame to our family names, it ends the work with the community and word spreads between communities. For someone like me, whose research is rooted entirely in service to Indigenous Peoples, with no separation between the personal and professional, that would be devastating.
If research-ethics processes are not about legal protection for the institution, as the staff at my university say, the word of the communities should be sufficient.
Recently, an Indigenous master’s student told me that she doesn’t think she will pursue a PhD, because she sees what I go through on a daily basis. She would rather just go back home and do good work. This is an important cautionary tale of what is at stake if we do not learn to honour Indigenous ways of knowing, understanding and doing.
Recruiting Indigenous researchers is not where the hard work of reconciliation ends for universities. It is only the beginning. From there, they must lift colonial constraints to ensure our longevity and success in academia. Our communities are depending on us to bring our gifts home.
- Jennifer Grenz is an assistant professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She is Nlaka’pamux of mixed ancestry. Her family are members of the Lytton First Nation (names Swartz, Tresierra and Kostering).
- Contact Jennifer Grenz