By Mike Foster
Last month, the University of Ottawa heightened its focus on Indigenous issues by hiring Carolyn Laude, a native Mohawk with a history of building consensus, as senior adviser, Aboriginal initiatives.
Her mandate is to develop and enhance opportunities and programs for Indigenous students and staff and to advise the University on its strategic direction as it relates to initiatives aimed at Indigenous people.
Laude has already hired three graduate students to examine the demographic profile of First Nations students at uOttawa and to create an Indigenous-focused portal on the University’s website. The Gazette sat down with her to find out more about her approach and how the recent federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission report will influence her work.
Q: What will this new job position address?
A: In this new role, I plan to work closely with the Aboriginal Education Council, other groups and services, and academic units to enhance existing services and programs. Through a partnership approach, I also aim to identify and develop new programs related to Aboriginal student services in the social, cultural and academic spheres, as well as pinpointing and closing any gaps in the organization. Mostly, my activities will target five key areas: recruitment and retention, programs and services, policy and research, community/internal stakeholder relations and strategic planning.
Q: How do you begin tackling such huge, important issues?
A: Presently, I am developing an approach for engaging with the University of Ottawa and external stakeholders that will lead to the development of a three-year strategic plan on Aboriginal initiatives and community relations that align with the University’s Destination 2020 strategic plan. As a first step, I plan to meet with each department chair over the next month.
Q: Tell us about your education background and career path.
A: I hold a master’s degree in legal studies (’13) and I am still studying. I am presently completing a PhD in legal studies with a specialization in political economy (at Carleton University). My research aims to rethink policy options on reconciliation as it relates to natural resource extraction in order to address the tensions surrounding Aboriginal title claims and their impact on the environmental planning process post-Tsilhqot’in. Prior to my appointment at the University of Ottawa, I served as a senior environmental management specialist with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Q. What is the extent of your knowledge of First Nations and Métis culture and history?
A. I am a Mohawk person, but have spent most of my life in northern Ontario amongst the Ojibwe, which has given me a greater appreciation and understanding of their culture, as opposed to my own. I have also lived in several jurisdictions across Canada and this has allowed me to get to know the Dene and Cree traditions and cultural practices as well. Each group’s culture is unique, and as an outsider to these communities you learn to appreciate the deep connection that each group has with the land, nature and the people. I also managed to contract for three years for a Métis provincial territorial organization, which helped me to understand the traditions, cultural practices and history of the Ontario Métis.
Q. How will the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations on education inform your work? The TRC, for example, calls for the elimination of gaps in educational and employment attainments between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and for more funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a postsecondary education.
A. I will be drawing on elements of the TRC calls to action as part of the strategic planning process and in my work with the academic units. It is always top of mind. As I work with faculties and services, we are certainly going to make sure that we are meeting the mark in terms of the calls for action around education. This university will have a different relationship with Indigenous peoples as a result of hiring someone like me. Obviously, the university is committed to renewing the relationship with Indigenous peoples since they filled my position and that is a good thing.
Q. What is a key lesson you have learned throughout your experience?
A. If you don’t work horizontally with all university and community stakeholders you will not be able to achieve true reconciliation in a post-secondary environment. Strong relationships and community partnerships are critical to this work at the University. Indigenous people can’t do it alone and neither can the University. If we work together to build a very different relationship between Indigenous peoples and the university, then together we can make great things happen.