The completion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's report (2015), and Canada's official adoption of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016) are among the many stimuli for Canada's renewed commitment to reconciliation, deeper understanding, and enhanced relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities.
UBC has likewise continued its strong commitment to engagement with Indigenous communities, support of Indigenous students, and to 'reciprocity, knowledge curation and development' with respect to Indigenous peoples and knowledges.
Key Initiatives and areas of support
The proportion of domestic graduate students who have identified as Indigenous has risen steadily over the past decade, to a current proportion of 3.5%. That percentage is still less than the BC and Canadian averages (5%), and continuing work is needed. Increasing these levels requires raising awareness and support for graduate school among undergraduates, building funding resources for Indigenous students, and working to ensure that the graduate school environment is inclusive and welcoming.
G+PS provides individualized support for prospective Indigenous students, and we have recently enhanced our web presence relevant to Indigenous students, including the creation of more Indigenous student profiles. Our goals going forward include more proactive recruitment strategies and enhanced support for undergraduates considering graduate school.
Approaches towards inclusion
It has been said that "inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures which exist in our societies; it is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone" (Diane Richler, President of Inclusion International). One integral approach to that end is to ensure academic policies and procedures are sensitive to the cultural diversity that exists at UBC, and sufficiently flexible to enable the flourishing of all students. In this context, G+PS may allow doctoral examinations to occur offsite, including at Indigenous communities, and (with acceptable rationales) approve individuals from outside the university, including Indigenous elders, to serve on graduate supervision and examination committees.
As part of its 'Reimagining the PhD' initiative, G+PS is encouraging and supporting students and faculty to broaden the concept of graduate level research and theses. This may include incorporating different, non-traditional epistemologies, methodologies, and communicative approaches in research and theses. This perspective was instrumental in accepting a dissertation written entirely in the Indigenous oral tradition, for example. Likewise, the Public Scholars Initiative (described under "Reimagining Graduate Education"), which supports students financially and academically to undertake broadened scholarship, has attracted a disproportionate number of Indigenous students to the program.
In many ways, we are still learning how to be inclusive as a university. Strategies going forward include ongoing reflection, consultation, and the seeking out and sharing of best practices with colleagues.
Mentoring and Community Support
SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement) is an exemplary program developed by the Faculty of Education at UBC to provide faculty mentoring, peer support, research training, and community for Indigenous graduate students and all students engaged in Indigenous research. Although it is a province-wide program, it is not as widely known or used as it could be at UBC outside the Faculty of Education. G+PS has entered into a partnership with the Faculty of Education to expand access to the program, review and refine its goals, enhance programming, and ensure its sustainability. Through the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, we will also be helping to facilitate the expansion of similar programs across Canada.
G+PS regularly reviews funding levels for all students at UBC. Particular attention is paid to Indigenous student funding, and numerous initiatives over the years have enabled strong financial support for these students, particularly those in the PhD stream. We are committed, however, to more thoroughly reviewing funding for all Indigenous graduate students and to developing strategies to meet any deficiencies. As part of the latter goal, 15 of the recently allocated BC Graduate Scholarships have been set aside for Indigenous students, and 12 of these will be 'double matched' from donors and the Provost's office.