Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Strategic Approach of Indigenization

By Vanessa Tait, 2nd year MDP student

On November 2015, the University of Winnipeg approved and mandated that all students are required to have a baseline knowledge about Indigenous peoples and perspectives. Dr. Hugh Grant and Dean Sylvie Albert asked me to begin developing a strategic approach on how to incorporate the concept of Indigenization within the Faculty of Business and Economics as part of my domestic MDP field placement.   

Vanessa Tait at the Faculty of Business and Economics
Dr. Grant taught me a graduate course titled Indigenous Economic Development where we first engaged in discussions on Indigenous business and economics. It became evident that Indigenous content was missing not only in the areas of business and economics at the UWinnipeg but also within many other spaces.  
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified the need to eliminate the educational and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. At all levels of education this requires higher attainment rates, culturally-appropriate curricula, community involvement and the respect and honouring of Treaty relationships. At the post-secondary level, it highlighted the shortfall in funding to support the participation of Indigenous students.   

Jessica Dumas (L), Hanwakan Whitecloud (Top),
 Sarah Cook (Bottom) and Vanessa Tait (R)

I stated to the many people I met along the way that it is time that our story as Indigenous peoples be included in the curricula and I hope that Indigenous youth and people soon fill more seats at the University and within the Faculty of Business and Economics.  We have been a part of the economy and have many successful businesses.  The institution cannot miss the boat in being inclusive and it needs to stop excluding us and looking at Indigenous content and knowledge as inferior. 

The roundtable discussion circle that we hosted invited both internal and external members.  Facilitating and leading this discussion circle was a wonderful experience, and I am grateful for all those that took the time to come and join the important conversation.  There was a lot of great dialogue and this is just the beginning of many more discussions.
I hope to continue this journey with the Faculty of Business and Economics as there is a lot more research, dialogue, and learning to be completed.  The ripple effects of this field placement will be amazing, as my experience and the initial field report and information gathered is the beginning of a much larger process. 

(L-R) Dean Sylvie Albert, Vanessa Tait, Dr. Hugh Grant
I learned so much during from the many discussions I had during this placement. To take the lead and to be given such an amazing opportunity that will assist in my future journeys has been humbling. I am proud to be part of the process. I would like to thank Dr. Grant for believing in my expertise and giving me the space to conduct research, set the stage for discussion and offer recommendations for Indigenizing the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Winnipeg.  Thank you to Dean Albert, Faculty Assistant Rachel Hammerback, and the Faculty of Business and Economics for hosting me for my Canadian Field Placement.  I hope to continue into the implementation process of this journey towards Indigenization, or at least see some of the recommendations incorporated. 
Ekosi - Kinanaskomitinawaw

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin

By Esther Awotwe, 2nd year MDP student 

These powerful words greeted me at the door when I first reported for my domestic field placement at the office of Gang Action Interagency Network (GAIN). GAIN is a grassroots community organization with about 25 partner agencies and organizations in Winnipeg dedicated to curbing gang violence in the city. The mission of GAIN is to collaborate community resources, consistently share service and awareness information, build strong relationships within agencies and the community in order to effectively administer gang prevention, intervention and exit strategies for gang involved youths. Gang related violence in Winnipeg is a reoccurring issue which is of great concern to GAIN and its partner organizations. 

The city of Winnipeg in 2011 recorded an unprecedented high of 39 homicides with over one third of these crimes involving youths aged 14-24. Coming from an Indigenous development background these numbers were quite troubling and worrisome to me and instinctively the first question I asked myself was where did we fail as a society? What support systems are available for our youths who need help? Even if support was available, how has it been administered? Is it through labelling, ‘us’ versus ‘them’ or rather through a reciprocal system of love, mutuality and responsibility? As I began to delve deep into these initial thoughts during my orientation at GAIN, “Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin” the words that greeted me began to make sense to me. Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin originated from an Ojibway Elder and Ogijiita means the spirit of both a warrior and a provider of the community. Pimatiswin means “good life” and Kinimatwin means “to walk a good life”.

GAIN in collaboration with its partners seek to help the youth to reclaim their future through strategies and programs that seek to empower the youth to be brave warriors; people who are not afraid to confront the past, surmount all obstacles and build the necessarily skills to posses their bright futures. I was therefore excited to learn that I will be working on the mentorship component of the gang exit strategy. An arduous task I must say but I am excited to draw on the skills developed in the MDP Program and in my human resource degree to work on this exciting project. Communities that children grow up in do have a profound effect on the adults they become so it is imperative to create safe, enabling, peaceful and loving environments now for youths in order to enjoy violence free communities in the future.

Mentoring provides an opportunity for the youth to be role models and develop life skills that allow them to be positive citizens. An important aspect of adopting mentorship as a component of gang exit strategy is the socio-cultural identity it offers the youth; knowing who they are, where they come from and imbibing the cultural and social values of high self esteem, respect and reciprocity is crucial to the emotional strength that these youths require to lead the good life. I am excited to see how the mentorship component unfolds as I interact with all the various partners for this project.   

Thursday, 2 February 2017

“Indigenization” in Business and Economics

By Vanessa Tait, 2nd year MDP student

As an Indigenous Ithinew Iskwew (Cree woman) from O-pipon-na-piwin Cree Nation, I have always had an interest in business. When I was a teenager, I witnessed both my parents open a small business in my community and saw the challenges they faced with mainstream business protocol.  During this time, I knew that I wanted to gain a greater understanding of mainstream business practices to share with our people and communities. Therefore I began my formal educational journey at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, and in 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, majoring in Aboriginal Business Studies. Currently, I am completing a Master’s in Development Practice: Indigenous Development Degree (MDP) at the UWinnipeg. 

Throughout my education and life experiences I have overcome challenges of isolation and the impact of ignorance of my culture and ways of life. While in business school, I found that there was a lack of Indigenous content and focus in the program other than if you majored in Aboriginal Business Studies, which very few do. I had to take other courses from other majors, and it is in those classes that I found a lack of Indigenous content or even mention of our peoples and communities. The business school had an overall misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Indigenous peoples, values, leadership and history of business endeavours that are vibrant in our communities.  There was no mention of the role we played historically to present day in the economy and business environment in Canada.  Feeling isolated, judged and at times a sense of discrimination I realized that after leaving the business school there was still a missing part of what I was seeking in my education. 

 So here I am, doing my second MDP field placement with the Business and Economics Department at the UWinnipeg. I ponder and wonder if the universe has brought me here for a reason? Is this something that I have been asking for and now I am here looking to see how I can be a part of a journey to “indigenize the academy,” in particular, the business school.  I am no expert, but I can point out a lot of things that I see are missing and can be incorporated. I am but one person, but I know many Indigenous business, economics and like-minded folks that we can invite into the circle to explore this indigenization in a strategic way.  

The reason why I agreed to explore and gain insight on how this Indigenization can be rolled out, is because, I do not want another Indigenous student to go through business school feeling isolated like I did. I would like to have Indigenous communities and peoples included in the content when speaking of business and economics. We are also part of the story and there are many successful entrepreneurs, community development projects, and success stories that can be shared and explored. We need more Indigenous students graduating from business and economics as well, so that our communities become self-sustaining in their own way and a part of the growing economy.

Lorne Pelletier, Executive in Residence at UWinnipeg, and Vanessa Tait
Since the beginning of the field placement I have met many folks that are interested in the Indigenization of the University of Winnipeg.  I have attended events that discuss the indigenization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities.  It is through dialogue and discussion with Indigenous people and communities where we will be able to gain insight into what it means to incorporate and include Indigenous content and information into the academy.  I ponder now the question of why it took so long to have Indigenous content at the focal point of the institutions that are on Treaty land.  But, I know that in reaching this point we need to make sure that we are not missed this time and we are included in the education system and that our knowledge, stories, values and ways of knowing are incorporated and need to be shared.