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Self-determining, emergent, and responsive: OISE establishes new Indigenous Educational Research Centre

June 25, 2020

By Perry King

Photo courtesy of the Deepening Knowledge Project at OISE. 

This spring, OISE Faculty Council approved a new research centre that would foster new and exciting research both across OISE and the wider non-academic community.

The Indigenous Educational Research Centre will provide a key space for Indigenous specific research across OISE – where Indigenous faculty and students can meet, work on research projects, and engage in critical conversations about their work in a culturally aligned safe space.

“The Indigenous Educational Research Centre will support the Truth and Reconciliation Committee's Calls to Action on education by bringing together excellent researchers to lead, connect, and collaborate on crucial research,” said Michele Peterson-Badali, OISE’s Associate Dean, Research, International & Innovation. “I look forward to seeing and sharing the work of the Centre.”

OISE News spoke to Dr. Sandra Styres about the establishment of this new research hub, which begins its crucial work this fall. Dr. Styres is an Assistant Professor in OISE’s department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning and a Canada Research Chair in Iethi’nihstnha Ohwentsia’kkha (Land), Resurgence, Reconciliation and the Politics of Education.

What is this Centre’s goal?

This Centre is an Indigenous-driven and Indigenous-led administrative structure within the Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning at OISE. The centre is designed to foster Indigenous resurgence and strengthen an Indigenous presence in research practices, but more specifically within Indigenous educational research contexts.

The centre will better equip the university to respond to and help shape how institutions can go beyond token Indigenization and reconciliatory efforts.

There are three Indigenous ethics informing the vision for this Centre: The ethics of Relationality; The ethics of Land; and The ethics of Indigenous resurgence.

The vision of the Centre is to establish a research focus within OISE that connects Indigenous faculty and graduate students along with other scholars whose educational research interests align with the vision of the centre in collaborative, respectful and culturally appropriate ways in order to examine and explore the issues of pressing concern to Indigenous people and their communities. The vision and goals of the Centre are not about any one individual – it’s about community, it’s about land, and it’s about Indigenous resurgence.

Further, the vision seeks to to connect programming and research in ways that reflect Indigenous place-specific knowledges. Visioning around the ethos informing this centre is key to Indigenous resurgence. However, in her 2011 book Dancing on our turtle's back : stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence, Leanne Simpson tells us that Indigenous resurgence cannot rely on vision in isolation from intentionalities. She writes that “vision must be coupled with intent: intent for transformation, intent for re-creation and intent for resurgence” (p. 147).

Aligned with the Indigenous ethics of Relationality, Land and Resurgence, there are seven key objectives of the Centre.

  • To advance the goals of Indigenous educational research in relevant and respectful ways;
  • To promote adherence to local place-specific protocols and ethics that guide the work in Indigenous and non-Indigenous educational research collaborations and the work with Indigenous communities;
  • To engage in knowledge production and dissemination of educational research in ways that foster respectful and reciprocal relations;
  • To develop and promote, through various types of events/workshops, appropriate and wise practices in the design and implementation of culturally appropriate educational research methods and theoretical concepts;
  • To provide a safe, supportive and fully resourced space for Indigenous students and faculty to advance their work;
  • To help build research capacity for emerging scholars in community-based Indigenous educational research contexts;
  • To offer opportunities for networking and building international educational research collaborations.


How did the Centre’s creation come about?

With the national spotlight on the reconciliation project and with education seen as a critical site for reconciliatory efforts and Indigenous resurgence, the centre was developed as a vital means to work toward resurgence and as an important response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action.

In Dancing on our turtle's back, Simpson writes that “if it is truly time to talk ‘reconciliation,’ then how we reconcile is critically important” (p. 24). To conceptualize Indigenous resurgence in the context of the centre I further draw upon the work of Leanne Simpson. She writes that the “process of resurgence” (p. 20) must be Indigenous-driven and -led. Further, that Indigenous resurgence is about “creating a space of storied presencing, alternative imaginings, transformation, [and] reclamation” (p. 96).

In this way, Indigenous resurgence is an emergent construct that can be taken up in relation to place-specific educational research contexts. The centre is designed to foster Indigenous resurgence and strengthen an Indigenous presence in research practices, but more specifically within Indigenous educational research contexts.

What kind of work was undertaken to make it a reality?

The development of the proposal for the centre involved multiple levels of consultation. I consulted internally and externally with relevant experts in the field. These consultations included faculties, departments, and various levels of administration, both within OISE and the greater University of Toronto as well as the Indigenous community within and beyond OISE. Clare Brett, Chair of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning, consulted with the Chairs of all other OISE Departments whose faculty may be associated with the Centre.

Extensive consultations included meetings with the OISE Dean’s Advisory Council on Indigenous Education and the Indigenous Education Network (IEN). The IEN expressed keen interest in generating a strong collaborative relationship with the centre particularly related to the mobilization of knowledge.

Within the greater University of Toronto, consultations included the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health. The OISE Dean’s Office organized consultations with faculty and academic administrators from the Faculty of Arts and Science, the director of the Centre for Indigenous Studies and Provostial Academic Advisor on Indigenous Curriculum and Education, and with the director of the Jackman Humanities Institute.

External consultations were arranged with a few national and international scholars who are relevant external experts in the field of Indigenous educational research. 

What kind of research do you see the Centre undertaking?

The Indigenous Educational Research Centre has its roots in empirical research. The centre will act as a nexus for fostering Indigenous educational research both across OISE, in the wider non-academic community, and in international scholarly contexts in several key ways.

It will provide key space for Indigenous specific research across OISE where Indigenous faculty and students can meet, work on research projects, and engage in critical conversations about their work in a culturally aligned safe space designed to foster Indigenous ethics of relationality.

How significant is it that a Centre like this exists – which centers Indigenous-focused and -led research?

My recent research into the ways institutions have been taking up the TRC’s Calls to Action revealed a strong need for academic institutions to provide culturally specific, safe and protected spaces where Indigenous graduate students and faculty can find support to advance their work. As well, after participating in two TRC task forces and OISE’s Academic Planning Committee, it became apparent that OISE, as a leading education institution, needed to take a leadership role in promoting and supporting Indigenous educational research.

The distinctiveness of the centre is its multi-disciplinary focus on self-determining, emergent, and responsive Indigenous research environs – more specifically the ways it relates to education across broad contexts. This centre supports the ways Indigenous faculty and graduate students promote Indigenous educational research within the academy while furthering the institutional goals of reconciliation.

The Centre provides a safe and supportive research environment linking Indigenous communities and the university. It serves to promote and support culturally aligned methodologies and theoretical approaches to Indigenous educational research.

It also seeks to establish and promote place specific ethics and protocols that guide the work in Indigenous and non-Indigenous research collaborations and the ways researchers work with Indigenous communities.

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