In Celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day

June is National Indigenous History Month and June 21 the National Indigenous Peoples Day – reminders to “recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples”.

At UBC, we are privileged to be living, working, and learning on the traditional and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh and, in the Okanagan, the territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation. Many of us settlers, we continue to benefit from the land we are on, and the engagement with and leadership of our Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.

While there are many ways to engage with this day and learn about innumerable examples of Indigenous leadership, I encourage you to explore the history of UBC-Indigenous engagement and a wonderful new virtual book – compiled by the First Nations House of Learning – that recognizes 29 Indigenous leaders who have obtained an honorary degree from UBC for their outstanding contributions to their communities and Canada.

In spirit of graduation taking place, this is also a timely moment to applaud the many Indigenous students graduating from our many programs, including those with an Indigenous focus such as the First Nations and Indigenous Studies program, the Indigenous Legal Studies, program for graduating Indigenous doctors, the Indigenous teacher education program, and the First Nations and Endangered Languages program.

Beyond recognizing individual successes, there are many other exemplary opportunities right here at UBC to learn about the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and their culture, including through the rich collections at the Xwi7xwa Library, the Indigenous foundations online resource, the First Nations House of Learning, the Museum of Anthropology online collections, the online engagement sessions hosted by the UBC Learning Circle.

Yet, as we honour the diverse histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada; the crucial role they have played in stewarding the land for generations; and the diverse strengths, contributions, and resilience of Indigenous communities today, we cannot do so without fully acknowledging how Indigenous knowledge and histories have continually been erased, whitewashed and devalued. The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC cotinues to amplify conversations around the legacies of the Indian Residential School System and the on-going impacts of colonialism in Canada.

While efforts towards reconciliation have been made – including through the symbolism and engagement around the installation of the Reconciliation Pole and the issuing of an apology to survivors of the residential schools, their families and communities, and to all Indigenous people for the role that this university played in perpetuating that system – more can be done.

Our histories are intertwined – experientially, geographically – but so are our futures. UBC would not be what it is today without the involvement and leadership of its Indigenous community members. As a university, we must do what we can to support future generations of Indigenous leaders and to provide space and resources for the preservation and sharing of Indigenous knowledge. Only through the full inclusion of Indigenous voices, perspectives, and understandings can we move forward in pursuit of reconciliation, justice, excellence, and UBC’s aspirations to create a better world.

The Equity & Inclusion Office is committed to listen to and learn from and support our First Nations, Inuit, and Metis students, staff, and faculty as we invest ourselves in efforts that support decolonialization of the university. Working with Indigenous campus partners, we will actively seek ways to help advance efforts that respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan.

The ongoing violence of anti-Indigenous racism continues to harm and marginalize. As settlers and allies, we must listen and hear how we best can support our Indigenous peers and colleagues. We need to inform ourselves of our role and complicity in a system that is built on the marginalization and erasure of Indigenous peoples.

UBC has made progress in acknowledging the harm that education institutions have done to Indigenous peoples and its responsibility is actualized through the Indigenous Strategic Plan. The commitment to inclusion can only be realized when we seek to redress current and historic injustices.

Lastly, I want to thank and recognize UBC’s Indigenous leadership, students, staff and faculty that I am privileged to work with and learn from, including on a few initiatives across an intersections of identities – the new the Trans, Two-Spirit, and Gender Diversity Task Force and those that have informed and advised on programming that seeks to build community and connection amongst Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour students, staff and faculty.

I urge everyone to join us in solidarity with and to work alongside, uplift, and celebrate Indigenous peoples in your own community today and every day.

Sara-Jane Finlay

Associate Vice-President, Equity & Inclusion

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