Six months after opening, the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre is inching toward becoming a formal centre

Six months after the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre’s (IRSHDC) opening, it is finally becoming a formal university centre.

UBC currently has 130 bodies formally recognized as institutes and centres listed on its online directory.

The IRSHDC, whose opening ceremony on April 9 was marked by UBC President Santa Ono’s formal apology for the university’s institutionalized support of the Indian Residential School System, may soon be on that list following approval from the UBC Vancouver Senate at its October 17 meeting.

It now awaits a similar motion from the Board of Governors.

“Centre status will aid in consideration of the interdisciplinary nature of the IRSHDC’s work and facilitate the ability to attract and retain affiliated faculty members who will work collaboratively in areas of research, teaching, and community outreach,” reads UBC Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri’s submission to Senate.

According to the submission, the centre — as an academic administrative unit — would operate under the college or faculty that its director belongs to. As a result, a change in director could result in a relocation of the centre accordingly.

During the Senate meeting, Szeri noted that this mobility lets the university to “make the best possible choice with future directors” — but added there could be significant continuity with faculty members and students if the centre stays in one faculty.

As IRSHDC Director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is currently a law professor, the centre would reside under the Allard School of Law during her term. Turpel-Lafond would report to both Szeri and Allard Dean Catherine Dauvergne.

“The proposal has full support from the Provost and the Dean of the Peter A. Allard School of Law,” reads the submission.

A bumpy start

The announcement follows a Ubyssey investigation that found the IRSHDC was severely understaffed and unprepared at the time of opening.

The proposal also clarifies the centre’s executive roles and the number of staff positions.

For instance, the director of digital, strategic and Indigenous partnerships would report to both Turpel-Lafond and University Librarian Susan Parker. Under this position, the head of research and engagement would be “cross appointed” with UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

IRSHDC organizational chart.
IRSHDC organizational chart. Screenshot UBC

There would also be two advisory committees to help with the centre’s operations: one staffed with experts in records and archival holdings, and one staffed with experts in Indigenous subject matter. Both committees would meet quarterly.

Szeri noted during the meeting that these committees will help the centre consult with Indigenous communities. For example, the second committee would include “up to eight individuals from all regions of B.C. and a variety of community and urban backgrounds,” reads the submission. “Care will be given to gender balance and reflect a range of ages, including a youth member.”

But the submission also notes that these committees are “subject to budget,” which is currently $870,000 in total.

“The IRSHDC Director is working with the Provost Office to expand the budget, subject to availability of funding, to develop more programming capacity and cultivate a governance structure that resembles [the proposal],” the submission reads.

With the Senate’s approval, Turpel-Lafond is moving closer to one of her goals coming into the position in June.

“That’s a big piece of my work to try and get the Centre actually set up as a centre within a UBC context, but also within library and archives so that the information we hold can have the privacy protection it needs ... and have the type of tools and systems so that it can be capable of being shared with the community,” she said in a previous interview with The Ubyssey.