New Board of Governors committee to hold UBC accountable on Indigenous initiatives

After announcing its commitment to create an Indigenous Engagement Committee on February 19, the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) has since approved the committee’s terms of reference and filled its membership.

The committee is expected to “monitor the progress of all initiatives” that are outlined in the Indigenous Strategic Plan. They also encompass items related to post-secondary institutions in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, such as creating “degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.”

This objective is to be carried through four main focus areas: “promoting greater awareness and recognition of Indigenous peoples within Canada;” “identifying and securing funding to support Indigenous learners and initiatives;” “developing a more detailed understanding of [UBC’s] Indigenous strategies” and holding the university accountable in reaching its goals related to Indigeneity.

While remaining a separate committee, the Indigenous Engagement Committee will report to the Board through the People, Community & International Committee.

“It’s a very timely and a very positive move,” said Dr. Linc Kesler, director of the UBC First Nations House of Learning and senior advisor to the President on Aboriginal affairs.

“The Board I think, in my experience, has certainly taken an interest in the way in which some of our initiatives have developed ... I think this initiative is welcome though because it shows an interest from the Board of being more actively involved and perhaps wanting to see updated information more frequently and commenting on it.”

The committee consists of five BoG members — three of whom are Indigenous: Chair Celeste Haldane is a member of the Musqueam and Metlakatla communities; Vice-Chair Dr. Charles Menzies is a member of the Gitxaała Nation; and recent provincial BoG appointee Chaslynn Gillanders is a member of the Nisga’a Nation.

It also includes Leona Sparrow, a member of the Musqueam Indian band whose land UBC resides on and UBC Vancouver’s President’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee representative, as well as Pauline Terbasket, a member of the Syilx Nation and UBC Okanagan’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee representative.

Chancellor Lindsay Gordon sits on the committee as an ex officio member.

Haldane intends to let her Indigenous background and social justice advocacy guide her leadership. Along with being an active member of the Indigenous Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association, she is also the first Indigenous chair of the Legal Services Society.

“Growing up in strong communities with cultural understanding and strong cultural support, I think, is important and that also informs my leadership,” said Haldane.

“I have different epistemology than others, and I view the world in a very holistic, whole way ... For me it’s about how do I empower others and how do I carry out the voices of those who aren’t being heard?”

Along with the mandate set out in the terms of reference, Haldane also pointed out the need to provide cultural and well-being support for Indigenous members of the community, as well as the need to make research more collaborative.

“We’re moving away from what I would call ‘research and run,’” she said, describing a process where researchers would “extract information” from Indigenous communities without giving back to them.

“By co-developing research with Indigenous communities, you’re actually developing research that Indigenous communities need ... [and] making sure that the need of the Indigenous community and Indigenous peoples are at the forefront not the other way around.”