Indigenous Knowledge Initiative adapts to COVID-19

Initiative leader details program alterations, emphasizes continued Indigenous knowledge integration on campus

Legal scholar Mark Dockstator is leading the Indigenous Knowledge Initiative.
Journal File Photo

The Indigenous Knowledge Initiative (IKI) has undergone significant changes under COVID-19 to safely continue serving the Queen’s community.

The Initiative began with the intent to integrate Indigenous Knowledge at Queen’s and facilitate connection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars. 

Former First Nations University President and legal scholar Mark Dockstator spoke with The Journal regarding present alterations and the future of the IKI.

Dockstator, leader of the IKI at Queen’s, said the intent of this academic year was to conduct university-wide student consultations. However, the IKI was revised to account for current student workloads.

“Adapting to a full academic year that consists of remote learning has impacts on students,” Dockstator wrote. “Adding yet another facet, such as consultations for the IKI, could negatively impact on their academic performance.” 

Dockstator said the revised plan aims to “piggyback” on existing platforms capturing student concerns and input, including the Indigenous Recruitment and Initiatives Coordinator and Office of Indigenous Initiatives. 

By utilizing existing networks and relationships, Dockstator said the process of consultation could still continue in a modified format.

“In this manner, information could be collected but in a fashion that respects current student workloads while simultaneously minimizing potential negative impacts to student academic performance.” 

According to Dockstator, the IKI was unable to facilitate the opening of the outdoor art installation this past year. 

“This component of the IKI involved students gathering in close proximity to design and paint the interior winter liner of tipis,” Dockstator wrote. 

Bearing student safety and disrupted manufacturing and delivery processes in mind, this aspect of the IKI couldn’t proceed. 

Dockstator also said the development of ceremonial space, located outside the City of Kingston and on third party land, has been delayed by COVID-19 measures.

“Although preparatory work has proceeded, such as virtual meetings to discuss concepts, budgets and potential construction timelines, without the ability to physically gather to ‘walk the land’ and through this process define the Ceremonial spaces, this project will remain in abeyance until such time as COVID-19 requirements allow,” Dockstator wrote. 

Regarding Ceremony, Dockstator outlined the research project titled “Making Space for Ceremony.” 

This project was founded to investigate the transmission of Indigenous Knowledge adapted within COVID-19 restrictions and has consulted with a team of faculty members from Queen’s and other Ontario universities. 

“This project brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, both Western and Indigenous […] from various academic institutions and backgrounds to examine the integration of Indigenous Knowledge into the Academy,” Dockstator wrote.   

He outlined the two primary components of the Initiative, including “Behind the Scenes” and “Final Products.” 

Behind the Scenes achieved success despite COVID-19 restrictions, according to Dockstator, implementing necessary elements to the IKI which remain invisible to the public. These components included administrative requirements through budget development and the aligning of work activities to the University procurement systems and financial approvals process. 

“This component also involves establishing the frameworks for ensuring future project success—building relationships, conducting consultations and investigating regulatory requirements to build structures on private land.”

Regarding Final Products, Dockstator said the original project timelines didn’t expect completion until the end of next year. 

“Depending on the nature of COVID-19 restrictions for the remainder of the year, these elements of the Initiative may be extended,” Dockstator said.  

Dockstator professed a hope in seeing objectives of the Initiative accomplished, encouraging the University to continue with its efforts to identify, develop, and integrate Indigenous Knowledge. 

He said the IKI is a relatively modest program compared to the size and scope of the academic activities and mission of the University. 

“The IKI is designed to illustrate how the Academy can further their existing efforts to build a strong foundation for the exploration of knowledge systems in partnership with Indigenous Peoples,” Dockstator said. 

“Ultimately, the IKI is an exercise that illustrates […] the ways in which the University can continue to build, encourage and strengthen these existing partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and various knowledge systems.”

Upon the completion of the Initiative post-lockdown, Dockstator said he anticipates a future of opportunity for knowledge integration. 

“There will be additional opportunities and mechanisms for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, faculty and other University personnel to gather, share and explore various aspects of Indigenous knowledge.” 

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