How the Academic Institution Silences Indigenous Faculty: Top 10 Strategies by Dr. Cheryl Suzack

How the Academic Institution Silences Indigenous Faculty: Top 10 Strategies

Second Annual Indigenous Women’s Speakers’ Series

“Politics, Knowledge, Ecology, Culture,” Centre for Feminist Research

York University

Cheryl Suzack, English & Indigenous Studies, University of Toronto

After 17 years teaching as an Indigenous professor in the university, I am sharing the top 10 strategies that I have observed the university use to silence Indigenous faculty.

Top 10 Strategies

  1. Permit land acknowledgements to be stated or read without commenting on the fact that in most cases, no Indigenous peoples are in the room. Ignore the symbolic meaning associated with land acknowledgements that the ancestors are summoned by the acknowledgement to rooms empty of Indigenous peoples. Do not allow this recognition to alter the fact that land acknowledgements are regarded as progressive political acts that occur in the vacuum created by the absence of Indigenous peoples.
  2. Let Indigenous faculty take all the risks by speaking up for issues of equity, accountability, and responsibilization to institutional social justice initiatives. Ignore the TRC recommendations that call for integration of Indigenous communities and their knowledge practices and overlook the fact that Indigenous faculty and students remain significantly underrepresented in the institution. According to figures provided by the CAUT Education Review Report, “Aboriginal Academic Staff in Canada—What the Census Says,” of the 76,555 university professor and lecturers working in institutions across Canada, 1.2% are Aboriginal professors (1071 in numbers); among college instructors, out of 97,940 faculty members, 3% are Aboriginal instructors (2,938); in census figures of students across campuses, 5% are Aboriginal students; and less than 4% (3.8%) of the workforce is made up by Aboriginal peoples.
  1. Do not learn from equity practices that have been successful in changing the institutional culture/climate of higher education in other countries, especially the United States where affirmative action policies have made significant inroads in altering the demographic of underrepresented communities in higher education. Overlook key strategies for including or “making space” for Indigenous students, strategies that include targeted enrolments in grad programmes, undergraduate programmes, and funding opportunities.
  1. Do not interrupt colleagues when they speak about incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the university as a benevolent act of acceptance. Let the institutional perception stand that Indigenous knowledge is secondary or subservient to Western modes of thinking. Do not risk speaking out in support of Indigenous knowledge lest the stigma of this area attach to yourself as a faculty member and undermine your credibility as a scholar. Be sure to question the excellence of Indigenous research within the scholarly field keeping in mind how other dispossessed communities were defeated by institutional inertia.
  1. Do not support Indigenous faculty when they speak up. Find ways to avoid the recognition their isolation raises by being the sole member in the department, programme, faculty, or unit. Never side with or show solidarity.
  1. Use the disclaimer that the few Indigenous faculty in the institution are over-worked and over-burdened by the scramble to change the deliberate exclusion of Indigenous peoples, content, students, and knowledge practices from the institution that has a long historical trajectory. Allow the idea of Indigenous faculty being overworked/overburdened to permit committees, colleagues, curriculum to continue to exclude Indigenous voices. Congratulate yourself that in recognizing the overburdening of Indigenous faculty as a way to continue with the way things are that you have made an important equity impact for dispossessed and underrecognized communities.
  2. Never speak about or inquire after colleagues leave your institution. Never reflect on how your current practices or institutional self-interest made certain that your colleague had to find collegiality, community, and scholarly acceptance elsewhere. Never recognize that their capacity to leave and your capacity to stay indicate a hierarchical difference between you, that yet again, through the Indigenous capacity to endure is seen as a negative characteristic that attaches to them and not to you.
  3. Insist that Indigenous faculty, students, community representatives are grateful to you for anything that you or your institution does to change exclusionary practices. Be sure to bask in the recognition that you made a difference rather than the recognition of benefits of dispossession as they attach to your institutional privilege.
  4. Ignore the glass ceiling that exists that keeps Indigenous knowledge in a secondary and subservient relation to other fields of study. Pretend not to see that few scholarships, honorary designations, or endowed chairs exist that recognize Indigenous scholarship. Use your ignorance about Indigenous peoples as a way to attack the credibility of Indigenous scholarship or the credibility of what Indigenous scholars claim to be important.
  5. Never speak up for Indigenous colleagues, content, students, and the injustice of their treatment by the institution.