Community cause

Donors supported Indigenous self-determination, governance

By Niall McKenna - 10 June 2021


Faculty of Native Studies professor Shalene Jobin leads an initiative that supports Indigenous communities and groups to revitalize their own ways of making decisions — one of many reconciliation efforts that donors support.


Wendy Robelo says she’s always been inquisitive by nature. Sure, the invitation to take part in a free, online course about Indigenous histories in Canada came from one of today’s most recognizable TV stars — Dan Levy, the award-winning star of the CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek.

“But I was intrigued. I knew very little about Canada’s history, much less its Indigenous history,” says Robelo, who lives near San Francisco. The week Levy posted about the course on Instagram, Robelo and more than 50,000 other people signed up for the Indigenous Canada massive open online course created by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies. 

Robelo was deeply moved as she learned about modern and historical Indigenous-settler relations in Canada, including the troubled legacy of residential schools.

Robelo was so appreciative of the faculty’s decision to offer free lessons rarely found in textbooks that she made a financial gift to the faculty — making her one of around 1,500 people to donate this year. Levy matched the first $25,000 donated. Robelo now gives monthly — the kind of commitment that will help the faculty increase Indigenous participation in higher education, says Dean Chris Andersen, which is one of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

Progress continues at the U of A, where enrollment of Indigenous students has increased by 50 per cent in the past five years to around 1,500. The Faculty of Native Studies remains North America’s only faculty dedicated to research on Indigenous issues. “By combining Indigenous community knowledges with academic research, we increase understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities,” Andersen says.

“Gifts from donors like Wendy and Dan will help us grow our faculty, preparing future students to engage with Indigenous communities in reciprocal, sustainable ways.”

Donor investment supports Indigenous communities and groups in Alberta and beyond as they revitalize their own ways of making decisions, says Shalene Jobin, director of the Indigenous Governance Partnership (IGP). The certification offered by the IGP focuses on the theory and practice necessary for Indigenous self-determination. It builds knowledge and develops skills suited to governance issues and opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.

“The opportunity to learn about Indigenous histories via a free course made me so appreciative of all the time the professors and staff put into the course that I wanted to show my gratitude by becoming a donor — to continue supporting the learning of others.” — Wendy Robelo, monthly donor to the Faculty of Native Studies

“Historical policies like residential schools were designed to destroy Indigenous cultures and communities,” Jobin says. “The IGP program helps redress those injustices by empowering communities and groups as they revitalize their governance and laws based on their own knowledges.”

More than 80 students have graduated from the IGP certificate, with many returning to their communities to become leaders, such as chiefs and administrators. Others bring their knowledge into their existing careers with Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations. Donor support will allow more students to earn the certificate and complete research projects in partnership with communities.

Though Robelo lives more than 2,000 kilometres south of the Canada-U.S. border, her ongoing gift makes her feel connected to Canada and the journey of reconciliation between settlers and First Peoples.

Donor Impact



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