As an educational leader, once you have determined who you are and what your personal values and beliefs are, then you can recognize your responsibility to work genuinely and respectfully with Indigenous Peoples and communities. Building bridges and relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities takes not only time and patience, but also the ability to be present and to listen intently.
Kendra Underwood, director of the W̱SÁNEĆ Adult Education Centre, shared the history of the relationship of her communities, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, and Pauquachin, with Camosun College. The education centre and the college have long provided programs and services together, and in 2012 their 40 years of working together was reflected in a formal relationship agreement.
Kendra believes a genuine interest in partnering with First Nations communities is essential in building relationships. When working together, it is important to honour the knowledge and expertise that First Nations bring to the partnership. Additionally, an appropriate amount of time is required to nurture those relationships, on the part of both the First Nation community and the college or university. Time must be provided for leadership to come together to discuss what an effective post-secondary–nation partnership can look like.
Kendra added, “It is so important for senior leadership, not only at the community level, to be present, but also at the post-secondary institution level too, to have a president sit down and meet with a chair of a school board or a Chief of a community.” She also noted that different post-secondary partners or new faculty members approach the school often; her advice would be to come and ask, humbly, “What would be your recommendation?” This kind of openness, transparency, and humility, being unsure but willing to ask the questions while feeling comfortable to say when you are feeling outside of your element, is greatly appreciated. “We might not know the answers,” she said, “but we will try to find the answers.”
Nella also spoke about the work involved in building relationships: “You have to build bridges. When you build those bridges, it makes a difference in how things shift and change.” Bridges are built through awareness of Indigenous Peoples and collectively sharing stories of who the people you share this land with are. Efforts to integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and being are advancing; however, racism remains an issue to be confronted. Nella noted that she shares stories to help build bridges, “because it’s the stories that will connect hearts, not the facts.”
Our work started with shifting the focus in our Aboriginal Services department from solely recruitment and advising functions to a more comprehensive student support and relationships approach…. During this time we also focused efforts and strengthened relationships with leaders in the regional First Nations on whose traditional territories Selkirk College has campuses and learning centres (West Kootenay Boundary region) as well as the regional Métis community.
Ian Humphries, dean of the School of Access at Camosun College, embraces his role in the institution, building relationships with local Indigenous communities. John Boraas encourages his peers to focus on building relationships, noting that you must do the listening part; do not assume you know, because the issues vary from place to place.