Gii-ikidonaaniwan, which means “It has been said” in Anishinaabemowin, is the title of the Final Report from the Indigenous Identity Project facilitated by the First Peoples Group, and delivered to Queen’s University on Thursday, Jul. 7, 2022.
In early June of 2021, Queen’s faced criticism through a detailed anonymous report shared publicly online, which alleged that multiple faculty members and other employees of the university had been falsely identifying themselves as Indigenous. Queen’s initially rejected this anonymous report and stood by the faculty members and others that the report resoundingly condemned.
However, several days later, a public letter of criticism for Queen’s institutional reaction was written and signed by hundreds of Indigenous leaders, professors, and educators throughout North America, including a number of Queen’s University professors (at the time of publication, this letter can no longer be found online). Queen’s swiftly released a new joint statement from then-Queen’s Provost Rahswahérha Mark Green and Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation) Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, acknowledging that “Indigenous identity is a very complex issue that remains the focus of rigorous and intense debate, particularly as it relates to equity hiring of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (FNIM) faculty and staff.”
About two weeks later, Principal Patrick Deane and then-incoming Chancellor, Hon. Murray Sinclair also released statements noting that further conversations and formal reviews were forthcoming. Chancellor Sinclair stated, “Queen’s University – like all institutions in Canada – has significant work to do. To date, the process for ensuring that Indigenous scholars are truly representative of Indigenous communities and experiences has been far from adequate.”
Chancellor Sinclair continued, “It is clear that self-identification of Indigeneity no longer works. Self-declaration is an important part, but it is just the beginning. We must go beyond an honour system and include voices from Indigenous communities across Turtle Island.”
A full review with recommendations for next steps was undertaken by First Peoples Group (FPG), an Indigenous advisory firm based in Ottawa. Their findings were detailed in the report submitted to Queen’s last week, and, echoing the statement from the Provost and the Associate Vice-Principal, FPG agreed that requiring faculty and staff to prove their Indigeneity is a complex challenge.
“We recognize that this indeed places the burden of proof on the Indigenous individual, which is yet another colonial hardship,” the report stated, “however, we are presently navigating a reality whereby some people are attempting to manufacture their own ‘Indigenous nations’ based on things like family lore and distorting ancestral connections. We want to be clear in that this process is not grounded in the spirit of ‘encumbering’ or ‘policing’; rather, it is about restoring, preserving or perhaps establishing for the first time, standards to ensure the integrity of Indigenous spaces within colonial institutions.”
Regarding faculty members or staff whose role at Queen’s centred on their claims of Indigenous identity, the report noted that if those claims turned out to be false, “[w]hile it may not be clear what should be done, it is clear that something must be done. Opinion here ranges from termination to finding alternative assignments at the University for those who have been found not to meet new requirements Queen’s puts in place.”
The report continued with seven recommendations, including:
- a sincere statement of apology,
- a commitment to ensuring that those teaching Indigenous Studies or Indigenous Education must themselves be Indigenous,
- the implementation of a requirement for candidates for employment in roles of Indigenous teaching or leadership to provide specific references to affirm their Indigeneity,
- continued practice of formal land acknowledgement,
- further discussions with members of local Indigenous nations, and
- increased autonomy and prominence for a Department of Indigenous Studies, and
- that Queen’s partner with the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek nations to “jointly develop a thorough and detailed process to address and implement all recommendations”, and that this process be transparent and public.
In the report’s executive summary, FPG reiterated the firmness of the report’s overall title, and stated that the ball is now in Queen’s University’s court. “This report analyzes what has been said, and we leave it to the leadership of Queen’s to act on our recommendations and expectations. Some have said that the Queen’s legacy is at risk, however we believe that if Queen’s is bold and takes the necessary steps that are required, it can become a leader in reconciliation and righting relations with Indigenous peoples.”
On Friday, Jul. 8, 2022, Principal Deane and Chancellor Sinclair responded to the FPG report, stating commitments to action.
Principal Deane noted, “[i]n principle, the university accepts the recommendations of the dialogue report. They provide us with direction and serve as a starting point for the work that lies ahead. Our immediate response will be to establish an Indigenous Oversight Council to advise the university on matters of Indigenous representation and citizenship… The university will rely on this Council for assistance as we work through the report’s recommendations and as we begin to implement a new and more comprehensive approach to Indigenous identity that is fair and equitable.”
Chancellor Sinclair agreed. “In my time at Queen’s,” he stated, “I have seen the strength of the Indigenous leadership and community. I feel confident that the creation of the new Council and the acceptance by the leadership at Queen’s of this report gives us a pathway forward.”