MUN appoints new vice-president as part of effort to Indigenize the university

·2 min read
Catharyn Andersen has been special advisor on Indigenous affairs to the president of Memorial University since 2015. (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Catharyn Andersen has been special advisor on Indigenous affairs to the president of Memorial University since 2015. (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Heather Barrett/CBC
Heather Barrett/CBC

Memorial University is appointing its first vice-president (Indigenous), whose job will be to ensure Indigenization is a top priority for the university's leadership.

Catharyn Andersen has been special advisor on Indigenous affairs to the the university's president on Indigenous affairs since 2015. She says she'll continue that work, now in a broader context and with more influence.

"The work that we're doing around Indigenization, decolonization, truth-telling and reconciliation is important work, and it's recognizing the relationships that we need to build with Indigenous communities," said Andersen in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

The position is only the second of its kind at a Canadian university, and is part of Memorial's strategic framework for Indigenization, which calls for more Indigenous leadership at the institution.

"It also means looking at making structural and systemic changes. And in order to do that, you need to have folks at this level," she said.

MUN defines Indigenization as "a process of naturalizing Indigenous knowledge systems and making them evident to transform spaces, places, and hearts." The university plans to incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems and ways of teaching into academic programs and research at the university.

Andersen says that while Indigenization should be led by Indigenous people, it isn't just for Indigenous students — it's for everyone. She says it's important the "leaders of tomorrow" understand the importance of reconciliation and decolonization.

"This is not just a part of our history. This is ongoing. And it's important that we understand the impacts of colonialism and the legacy of colonialism and that can be done right across the institution," said Andersen.

Changing structures

Beginning in 2018, Memorial held 26 engagement sessions in Indigenous communities across Newfoundland and Labrador to gain perspective on the relationship between Indigenous people and the university.

The president's advisory committee on Indigenous affairs, which Andersen sits on, used the consultations to develop the university's strategic framework for Indigenization.

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

The framework outlines four strategic priorities for Indigenization at Memorial, which Andersen will oversee: leadership and partnership, teaching and learning, research, and Indigenous student success.

She wants to see more Indigenous staff, faculty, and students at Memorial University, and is already working on a "cluster hire" of Indigenous tenure-track faculty.

Last year, Memorial announced the creation of its first degree-granting campus in Labrador, which will be led by partnerships with Indigenous people and organizations.

Andersen said that while the work of Indigenizing the university will take "generations," she believes Memorial is headed in the right direction.

"We want this to be the first choice for Indigenous students in Newfoundland and Labrador, and I think we can do that. I think we're on the path and I'm really looking forward to the work that we'll do collectively over the next five or 10 years."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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