Queen’s begins consultations for new Indigenous hiring practices

New policies come following allegations of university staff falsifying Indigeneity claims

University to hold more discussions on Indigeneity throughout December and January.

This article discusses the atrocities committed in Residential Schools and may be triggering for some readers. Those seeking support may contact the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation or Four Directions. For immediate assistance, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.

Queen’s is set to begin consultations with community members to develop a new hiring process for Indigenous faculty this November and December.

The policy change comes not only in response to allegations that surfaced online in June accusing multiple Queen’s staff members of falsely claiming to be Indigenous, but as a part of a larger movement to address wrongful claims of Indigeneity across postsecondary education.

“There’s many sectors in the country right now that are experiencing this phenomenon of people claiming Indigenous identity who are actually not Indigenous,” said Janice Hill (Kanonhsyonne), associate vice-principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation), in an interview with The Journal.

“It's important in any of our hires […] When there's benefit attached to being an Indigenous person, we need to be sure that those benefits are being realized by Indigenous people.”

The goal of these consultations will be to determine how to best ascertain claims of identity in a clear, equitable manner.

Traditionally, universities and other institutions have relied on self-identification—a process Chancellor Murray Sinclair said “no longer works” in a statement made in June.

“I think in this day and age, claims of Indigenous identity are going to need to be considered similarly to verification of academic qualification or employment record. I'm venturing to guess that we will have to establish similar protocols for those who are claiming Indigenous identity,” Hill said.

Views on exactly what qualifies as a valid claim to Indigeneity are divided. Hill hopes the consultations will shed some light on how best to answer questions of heritage.

“Some people will say it's not a difficult task. You either are [Indigenous] or you're not. I've heard people say you can always trace your family back to somebody. You might not live in a community, but at some point in your history, someone will be able to claim you,” she said.

“Where the complexity comes in is because of our complex and complicated history, like residentials schools, the Sixties Scoop, missing and murdered Indigenous women, or the prevalence of Indigenous children in care. All of these things have disrupted familial connection, and for some Indigenous people who are victims of those things, they're still finding their way back to who they are.”

Hill added that in the case of Indigenous children who were taken away from their families and adopted out, many may not even know they are Indigenous, let alone have the required documentation.

Hill also emphasized the importance of reciprocal claims of Indigenous identity or membership in a community as a method of verifying one’s background.

“I can say, ‘This is who I am, and this is the community I belong to,’ but if that community doesn't claim me, then there's a disconnect there.”

Currently, Queen’s is prepared to speak with several stakeholders, including Indigenous scholars, students, alumni, partners, and community members.

The first of these roundtables was held jointly with the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Aboriginal Education on Nov. 15 and attended by over 30 Indigenous representatives from schools across the province.

“This conversation is a conversation for Indigenous people,” Hill said. “You’ve heard the adage, ‘nothing about us without us.’ Indigenous people have to inform this work and have to inform how we're going to go forward.”

Queen’s plans to hold more discussions throughout December and January, along with conducting one-on-one interviews and a survey.

According to Hill, a summary report and recommendations will ideally arrive by spring, and from there, the university may decide to develop further policies or guidelines for verifying Indigenous identity.

The results of these findings may not only be applied towards staff hiring, but also “admissions based on Indigenous identity, scholarships, awards, fellowships, [and] bursaries,” she said.

According to Hill, there are no established practices for this type of hiring yet.

“My hope is that we'll at least come away with some guidelines for how to approach hiring in a more informed and a more consistent way. We have had practices that we've undertaken, but not consistently enough, and perhaps not rigorously enough,” she said.

“I think the onus is on us to be more rigorous, to be more consistent, and to have guidelines in place to help everybody with these issues.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.