Indigenous Engagement Committee Report

By / par Samantha Lawler (University of Regina)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2024)

On February 13, the CASCA Indigenous Engagement Committee held its first workshop. The topic was “How to invite a local Indigenous knowledge-keeper to your astronomy class”. We discussed what documents were available for helping employees to fruitfully engage with local Indigenous groups, and compiled a list of these. A couple of institutions did not have a document at all, and several have really fantastic, comprehensive documents. A list of links to documents appears at the end of this article.

Many resources were highlighted during the workshop, but the committee wanted to specifically share a very complete document provided by the Calgary Board of Education that can be found here. This document is a complete elder protocol developed in partnership with many community members, the Native Counseling Services of Alberta and the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund.

The main take-aways from the workshop are summarized in the bullet points below:

  • Seek the help of a Cultural Mediator provided (or not) by your institution.
  • Be aware of the burden of requests Indigenous people sometimes receive.
  • Clearly communicate the “shared purpose” of a meeting with the elder/knowledge-keeper.
  • Build a relationship before your event/activity.
  • Story telling takes time, it has a purpose to help you, and it is up to you to extract the tools you need from that story. Structured agendas may not be useful in some settings and Elders especially tend to not like time constraints.
  • Elders have to be accompanied with respect over their whole visit to your institution.
  • Gifts and honoraria must be given with care and respect.
  • Ask what is the best way to reach out, it might not be emails.
  • Prepare your participants in advance. Develop and use a code of conduct.

The IEC thanks all the participants for an excellent discussion, and we plan for future workshops with the CASCA community.

List of Indigenous engagement documents from individual institutions:

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