A First Nations academic says he is taking a wait and see attitude after Queen’s University pledged to bring in new policies regarding Indigenous verification.
“There’s a little bit of broken trust there,” says Veldon Coburn. “Not a great deal of confidence moving forward. It’s something that we’re going to have to see action on rather than just words in a report.”
Coburn teaches in the Institute of Indigenous Research and Studies at the University of Ottawa and did his doctorate at Queen’s, located in Kingston, Ont.
He is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.
Queen’s commissioned a report by Ottawa-based First Peoples Group after allegations surfaced last year of people affiliated with the university falsely claiming to be Indigenous.
One of the report’s main recommendations is to have local Indigenous groups play a key role in the verification process.
“The university understands they’re not in a position to say who is or who is not Indigenous,” says Jan Hill, Queen’s associate vice-principal of Indigenous initiatives and reconciliation.
“That’s something that we will be looking to the guidance of the Indigenous oversight council. To help us develop policies, procedures and documentation requirements. All of those things are yet to be determined.”
The report recognizes the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Alderville First Nation, the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg as legitimate Indigenous groups that should be consulted for verification.
But it does not recognize the controversial Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, which has had a long relationship with the university.
The University of Saskatchewan also established a policy on Indigenous verification after academic Carrie Bourassa resigned over falsified claims earlier this year.
“We have known for quite awhile that the unofficial practice of self-verification was inadequate and frankly disrespectful to Indigenous peoples as well,” U of S president Peter Stoicheff says.
“So we embarked on this process of developing a policy that went beyond – far beyond – self-identification or self-verification.”
Coburn says universities should never have relied on Indigenous self-declaration in the first place.
“In the academy here, the universities, nothing is really taken on our word,” he says. “We have to prove ourselves at every turn and especially our credentials and in our academic rigour. So, it seemed to be a practice that had gone a little bit wayward over the last decade or so.”
The report also recommends Queen’s apologize for the discomfort the issue has caused and Hill admits there is work to be done.
“It’s not only the academics, but I think there’s been a lot of hurt in the whole Indigenous community,” she says, “within not only the university but even the surrounding areas. So we have discussed the need for healing work to take place.”
Both Queen’s and the U of S have been largely silent on what they intend to do with existing staff who do not meet the new Indigenous verification standards.