Dec. 14, 2022

Marking 5 years of UCalgary’s journey to Indigenization

Revisiting the Spirit of ii’ taa’poh’to’p: 2022 Journey Update
Marking 5 years of UCalgary’s journey to Indigenization
Gerald Ratt, Indigenous initiatives specialist, takes part in the smudging ceremony, with Rose and Elder Reg Crowshoe and President Ed McCauley. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Five years ago, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to’p, was launched as part of its journey towards Indigenization. Each year since, UCalgary has hosted a special event to reflect upon the ongoing progress of that journey. 

The fifth Journey Update was held on Dec. 2 with the theme, Revisiting the Spirit of ii’ taa’poh’to’p. The event focused on UCalgary’s path to reconciliation by revisiting the root of the Indigenous Strategy and further exploring, recognizing and reflecting how UCalgary has worked towards the four focus areas outlined in ii’ taa’poh’to’p. 

“We acknowledge as an institution that we cannot move forward without remembering and learning from the past, and we further acknowledge that, while we have made good progress, we still have a long journey ahead,” Shawna Cunningham, director of the Indigenous Strategy, said at the event.

Dr. Penny Werthner, interim provost and vice-president (academic) said that, within the UCalgary community, “we’re very proud of this strategy that we have embarked on the last five years. And it really has been a guiding light on our journey toward truth and reconciliation.”

The strategy is comprised of 27 recommendations divided into four focus areas: Ways of Knowledge, Ways of Doing, Ways of Connecting and Ways of Being. During this year’s Journey Update, which opened with a performance of the UCalgary Honour Song, performed by Anders Hunter, followed by Elder Reg Crowshoe, Hon. LLD’01, cleansing the space with a smudge and an opening prayer, community members shared stories that aligned with one of the focus areas to further reflect, rejuvenate and re-energize the commitment to the strategy.

Gerald Ratt, specialist, Indigenous initiatives with the Office of Indigenous Engagement (OIE) team, shared some of the achievements of the last academic year:

  • $50,000 was awarded to select UCalgary programs and projects through the ii’ taa’poh’to’p intercultural grant program. Since 2018, 25 projects have received $260,000 in grant funding.
  • Indigenous students, faculty and staff were included in several in-depth university policy reviews.
  • Elders continued to be sought after in guiding the teaching and learning experiences for students and faculty.
  • Accessibility to post-secondary education was increased through a new approved pathway, pre-pathway and bridging program for Indigenous students in the Schulich School of Engineering, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Nursing, and Continuing Education.
  • Calgary Foundation gifted $1 million to OIE to advance the major goals of the Indigenous Strategy.

As a nod to this year’s theme, Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), welcomed special guest Dr. Jacqueline Ottmann, BEd’89, PhD, president of First Nations University of Canada, to provide insights on the origin of our Indigenous Strategy. In the early 2000s, while an associate professor with UCalgary’s Werklund School of Education, Ottmann saw a need as there were policies in place, but no specific Indigenous strategy; she was inspired to initiate one for the faculty, which evolved into a campus-wide development process that resulted in ii’ taa’poh’to’p being launched in 2017. 

“I hope that the University of Calgary is that restorative space, a place that inspires creativity and brings people together, and a place that values and uplifts, and centres Indigenous peoples, the original peoples of these lands and territories,” Ottmann said of her vision for the strategy.

Crowshoe highlighted how the smudge, tipi and circle provide ethical space, and the importance of oral practice. “In our oral practices, when we validate either a gift or knowledge that was transfer or a decision being made, when we validate those with a smudge, then the song is our physical documentation,” he said.

Throughout the Journey Update, participants were reminded of the importance of the term “parallel paths” and working together to Indigenize and decolonize some of our everyday practices. During his closing remarks, President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley reminded the UCalgary community, "Our journey toward reconciliation was not meant to be passive. It was actually a call to action, a call to take this journey together, in a good way. To increase our knowledge about Indigenous Peoples’ culture and history. And to commit ourselves to Indigenization and decolonization." 

Crowshoe honoured McCauley with an Indigenous name reflective of his commitment to ii’ taa’poh’to’p at the closing of the update. “When we give you a name, we push you to step into that new life, into that new name,” Crowshoe said as he bestowed the name Mohkaakit’ aotomoo onto McCauley, which is Blackfoot for “Knowledge ones leader.”

Crowshoe closed the update by reiterating the importance of renewing the strategy and provided a few lasting words to bring us into 2023: “We're stepping onto snow now, and let’s have a safe journey through the snow, through to Christmas, to New Year’s so that we can make it to the green grass next spring.”

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,” UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.