Dr. James Makokis

Dr. James Makokis


There is a significant expectation from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike that the University of Alberta takes up its role in Indigenous-focused work and reconciliation.

Locally, this theme emerged in the consultations that informed the university’s strategic plan, For the Public Good in 2016. The 2019 Community Engagement Consultations led by External Relations also showed a significant desire for an institutional commitment to Indigenous Initiatives and a response to the TRC Calls to Action. The dialogues for the Indigenous Strategic Plan strongly reiterated these expectations.

The shifting requirements for Indigenous Initiatives are centred not only in community expectation; universities are facing the imperative of addressing Indigenous initiatives in Indigenous-focused research, teaching and community engagement.

These have arisen from post-secondary accreditation bodies, national funding agencies, research council frameworks, professional associations, governments, new requirements for Indigenous-engaged ethical research, and corporate partners requiring robust EDI frameworks.

Within disciplines, those advocating for greater awareness of diverse worldviews, perspectives and silenced narratives cite the value of this work in enriching academic knowledge and rigour but also in upending the dominant paradigm that centres Eurocentric worldviews, peoples and practices to the exclusion of others. These discourses examine and question the ways that universities have contributed to the harms of colonization and how we might approach structural changes within a decolonization framework.

Critical social justice issues have also emerged as a key policy priority at post-secondary institutions. The themes of marginalization and injustice are at the heart of movements to strengthen the civic role of the institution, ensuring that universities are examining key institutional processes including new pedagogical approaches, hiring practices, critical self- reflectivity, community engagement and alignment with government priorities on these themes.

The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the legal requirement the duty to consult with Indigenous Peoples to foster reconciliation. The duty to consult requires that governments, corporations and individuals know about and respect Indigenous and treaty rights in order to work with Indigenous nations, governments and communities within the Canadian legal context, also setting a model for broader engagement efforts.

Around the world, and nationally, universities are being called on to ensure that graduates of their programs are aware that their studies and possible professions are situated on Indigenous lands and have an impact on Indigenous Peoples. In revisiting the foundational understandings in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, universities are also providing a space in which to consider what it means to be a good relative in the terms intended in the treaties.