UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

It takes more than good intentions : institutional accountability and responsibility to indigenous higher education Pidgeon, Michelle Elizabeth


An Indigenous wholistic framework is used to examine the question "what makes a university a successful place for Aboriginal students?" This study moves away from a student deficit discourse by critiquing universities from an Indigenous methodological and theoretical approach in terms of (a) how Indigenous knowledges were defined and found in universities and (b) how Indigenous understandings of success, responsibility, and accountability resonated in three universities in British Columbia, Canada. This research is grounded in Indigenous theory; however, social reproduction theory was used to explain power structures inherent in the mainstream educational system. The Indigenous research process involved a mixed methods approach. Approximately 60 interviews and four sharing circles were held with a total of 92 participants representing various stakeholders across the institution. In addition, the Undergraduate Baccalaureate Graduate Surveys (UBGS) were analyzed to contextualize Aboriginal undergraduate student experiences over the last 10 years. A major finding is that respectful relationships between Aboriginal stakeholders and university faculty and leaders are key to universities becoming more successful places for Aboriginal peoples. This study shows how Indigenous knowledges were present, as pockets of presence, in the academy in programs and through Indigenous faculty, staff, and students. As sites of Indigenous knowledges, First Nations Centres played a critical role by wholistically supporting the cultural integrity of Aboriginal students and being agents of change across the institution. Indigenous wholistic understandings of success challenged hegemonic definitions that emphasized intellectual capital to include the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. Kirkness and Barnhardt's (1991) 4Rs were used to critically examine the responsibilities of universities to Aboriginal higher education. The following institutional responsibilities were presented: relationships, such as the seen face through Aboriginal presence, having authentic allies, involving Aboriginal communities, and enacting agency; reciprocity and relevance, which addresses issues of limited financial resources, increasing retention and recruitment, and putting words into action; and respect for Indigenous knowledges. Institutional accountability from the Indigenous framework went beyond neo-liberal discourses, to include making policy public, surveillance from inside and outside the institution, and the need for metrics and benchmarks.

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