The ultimate objective of the residential school system was to destroy the cultural, political and social institutions of Indigenous peoples. This included a targeted campaign to forcibly remove children from the care of their parents and to place them under the control of a state that regarded them as less than human. At the same time, land was stolen, the Indian Act heavily restricted Indigenous peoples’ lives, and a reserve pass system was set in place to monitor movement of Indigenous people. Many aspects of cultural expression were also made illegal, including language and ceremony. These actions represent a conscious and deliberate attempt to eradicate Canada of the sophistication and rich cultural diversity among Indigenous peoples.
An understanding of the role that UBC, and all post-secondary institutions in Canada, have played in colonization is important to put the ISP into context. Universities trained many of the policy makers and administrators who operated the residential school system, and professors conducted research at residential schools that exploited their deplorable conditions without attempting to change them, for example.
Today, colonialism remains a daily reality for many Indigenous students, faculty and staff at UBC, where Eurocentric approaches to teaching and research are valued and Indigenous worldviews and knowledge systems are largely excluded from the classroom and wider campus.
The last decade has seen significant progress in the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights in Canada and around the globe. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) published its 94 Calls to Action in 2015. This was followed in 2016 by Canada’s full endorsement, without qualifications, of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) final report, with its 231 Calls for Justice, was released in June 2019. In November 2019, BC passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) and on June 21, 2021, Bill C-15, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act received Royal Assent.
These events have led to a new set of expectations for educational institutions in upholding Indigenous peoples’ human rights. In BC, provincial mandates now require universities to have response plans in place and report annually on their implementation progress. Through this Plan, our aim is to foster a more inclusive and respectful environment where the truth about our failings as an educational institution in the past serves as a continuous reminder of why the work ahead must be prioritized throughout the university.
See a timeline of UBC’s progress to date.