Journey to Indigenization: Faculty reflections

By Amanda Williams (2023-01-27)

As we begin a new term, I reflect with gratitude on 2022 and my experiences at MRU. Without a doubt, last fall one of my most meaningful experiences involved attending Mount Royal’s Journey to Indigenization. 

For those of you that may have missed it, the Journey to Indigenization took place across campus from September 22 to Oct. 4, 2022. It was hosted by the office of Indigenization and decolonization. As their website notes, it offered faculty and students the opportunity “learn directly from elders, participate in Indigenous scholarship, or show support for Indigenous communities.” 

Because I found my experience with this event so impactful, I asked those who presented their work, or attended, to answer one of the following two questions:

  • Can you share some insight about your personal or professional journey to Indigenization?
  • What do you believe is the value of Indigenization to your teaching, or to the university overall?

Below is what fellow faculty members shared. Their contributions include stories of their path to Indigenization and also showcased the work happening in courses and at the departmental level. Collectively, the responses remind me of the transformational potential that can emerge when people explore reconciliation and decolonization on university campuses.

I encourage you to consider being part of this journey next fall either as a presenter or attendee. Also reflect upon how you might encourage your students to be part of this process. 

Faculty attendee Josh Hill (Education) reflects on his personal journey and invites us all to connect

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Josh making Tree Medicine on the Land
with his students and their practicum
Mentor Teachers.

The ongoing discoveries of mass graves at the former sites of Indian Residential Schools offers a tragic reminder that the work of advancing Truth and Reconciliation in Canada is needed and tremendously important.

Former Chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Murray Sinclair, pointedly summarized the role that education needs to play: “It is precisely because education was the primary tool of oppression of Aboriginal people, and miseducation of all Canadians, that we have concluded that education holds the key to reconciliation” (Stromquist, 2015). 

As a teacher educator I am compelled to decolonize my practice, seek to include Indigenous perspectives in my courses, and help prepare my students to advance truth and reconciliation in their future classrooms. While the ethical and professional mandate is clear and compelling, complexities exist stemming from the ongoing legacies of colonization and the dominance of eurocentric knowledge in our K-12 and post-secondary education systems (Battiste, 2013). In this context and alongside my colleagues and students in the department of education I am seeking ways to create an “ethical space” (Ermine, 2007) to include Indigenous knowledge, ways of being, and ways of coming to know at Mount Royal University. 

I am very grateful to have received ongoing guidance from Indigenous Elders, to participate in the University’s Journey to Indigenization, and to be part of the MRFA member directed working group the Indigenous Faculty Collective. I believe it is essential to engage in this work in community and I invite you to reach out to me so that we might support each other’s journeys. 


  • Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Saskatoon, SK: Purich. 
  • Ermine, W. (2007). Ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193– 203. 
  • Stromquist, G. (2015, September). Education for reconciliation. BCTF Teacher Magazine, 28(1), 9.

Faculty presenter Susan Garrow-Oliver (Social Work) recounts her personal connection to the importance of decolonization work for her department

CCSW poster in the T-Wing 

The photo here is what my colleagues Roy, Audra, Pat and I presented as we shared the story of our department collective commitment towards decolonization, reconciliation and Indigenization.

Each of us has our own journey and approaches to this work but a part of it includes working collectively within our communities to change practice. 

Leadership, authenticity, relationships and humility were key factors in the process of creating our poster that is in the front of our department on the 3rd floor of the T-wing for all to see. 

The poster reminds us of our individual commitment word and holds us accountable as individuals and as a department to each other, students and the broader community. 

We consider this commitment in how we design courses, curriculum and assessments. We also think about our internal approaches to policy and procedures such as hiring and meeting facilitation. Decolonization and reconciliation efforts are

Faculty presenter Carol Armstrong (Biology) shares some insight on the value of her “Learning Through the Land” course for students

During a block week at the end of August, a colleague Alexandria Farmer and I took15 third-year science students to Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp on the Piikani reserve in southern Alberta as part of a new Biology course called Common Ground: Learning from the Land (BIOL3201). We spent three days sleeping in tipis and learning from Harley Bastien, a Piikani knowledge keeper and environmentalist and from Joyce Healy, an educator, story holder and member of the Kainai First Nation. 

Student group at the campsite

The purpose of the course was to expose students to different scientific perspectives and encourage them to challenge their beliefs about what science is, what it means to “think scientifically”, how to listen and observe and the validity of the immeasurable.

The opportunity to experience land-based learning, and to have the flexibility and freedom to discuss and reflect on perspectives that were different than their own had a remarkable impact on the students.

Faculty presenter Jebunnessa Chapola (General Education) recounts key insights from her doctoral dissertation and the implications of her findings for offering a new way forward regarding Indigenization

Jebunnessa Chapola at her graduation

What I presented was my doctoral dissertation. This piece of scholarship tells the story of my racialized settler woman’s transformative journey toward making relationships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, reconciliation and mutual empowerment through the community in Canada. My work considers how Indigenous Land-based learning became healing and empowering for me as a newly arrived settler woman of colour, learning about my positioning on the stolen Indigenous Lands of treaty six territories. It recounts the journey of migrating from one colonial Land to another, building a family and new community networks, and learning about Indigenous histories, cultures, Land-based learning, and diverse newcomer settler communities in Saskatoon, Canada. I also discuss how collaborative learning has supported taking responsibility for understanding the meaning of Land in solidarity with Indigenous and newcomer communities through involvement in a community garden project, community radio show, and various cultural community activities.

Using decolonial feminist relational autoethnography as my research methodology, I discuss my quest to challenge everyday racism and colonial practices ingrained in the daily lives of newcomer Canadians. Following 12 years of community activities in Treaty 6 and 7 territories, this research emphasizes a key lesson from my life journey: the need to be responsible for understanding the Indigenous meaning of Land to create belongingness with the Land and its original peoples while resisting the assimilationist forces impacting Indigenous and newcomer communities through their unique histories, despite the orchestrated biases operating through colonialist structures. 

I conclude with the hope that the analysis of decolonial, collaborative learning stories and connections with the Land may help other non-Indigenous communities build meaningful relationships with the Land and Indigenous communities. We have only one job now: to protect this Land, water, and environment. We need to pay attention to the contemporary indigenous resistance movements, food sovereignty and Land-based pedagogy. That is only possible by valuing Indigenization through teachings in all levels of education and informal learning spaces around the communities. 

Faculty Presenter Richard Erlendson (Journalism and Digital Media) recounts the beauty of collaboration between faculty, students, and a community organization, in their quest for visual diversity in Indigenous representation

While teaching JOUR 4727 (Photojournalism Projects) in the Winter 2022 semester, I had the good fortune of becoming connected with the Aboriginal Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) organization and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) through my department colleague Amanda Williams.

One thing led to another, and before long, a partnership had been signed – what we called Celebrating Diversity: A Visual Representation of Women Entrepreneurs in Alberta’s Ecosystem. 

My students and I agreed to interview Indigenous women entrepreneurs in the Calgary area about how they would like to be represented – and then we photographed them honouring their wishes.

And just like that, I was launched on a unique journey to Indigenization.

In other courses I teach in the School of Communication Studies, I have successfully found Indigenous readings or video clips to incorporate into course materials as I looked to Indigenize the curriculum. Students have enjoyed the readings offering different perspectives and worldviews, and new conversations have erupted in class.

But my previous strategy didn’t fit the Photojournalism Projects course. So, I was delighted when the AWE/WEKH project materialized.

In fact, it was pure gold. It was practical. Applied. And purposeful. 

It offered real-world, real-time opportunities – with real people. And in this case, Indigenous people. In Indigenous places. It was a kind of privileged invitation to a new topography.

Our ordinary photo assignment revealed how a university course can be a place where we meet our shared and contested ancestors face to face in ways that are whole, healthy, and life-giving.

We were welcomed into homes and businesses at the Tsuu T’ina and Siksika Nations. Inevitably, we found ourselves with our cameras on the land where we encountered rich images of ancestry, sustainability, ecology, interrelatedness and kinship.

We were reoriented as we came to understand the intimate relationships among people – and the land. Here we came to appreciate what it means to belong to a place – to belong intergenerationally to an earthy place.

What we discovered is that each of our participants is accomplished. Gifted. Bright. Hardworking. Connected. And, modest beyond measure. Grounded. Rising stars. Game changers. Leaders. Accomplished business women.

Richard Erlendson holding his camera

And yet.  Few images of these amazing women existed. How could this be? Well, sadly, it’s predictable and historical. Though they have been with us, they have been absent in their presence. Quietly developing their talents. Quietly growing their businesses. Quietly continuing on.

We celebrated the release of the photographs at a gathering on campus in April. The participants and their families, the student photographers, AWE and WEKH representatives, an Elder, and MRU administrators joined together to consider a-gain what learning can become in an Indigenized space.