The president of the University of Regina says it’s been a challenge balancing freedom of expression while moving forward with truth and reconciliation.
The issue presented itself last week following a scheduled appearance by Canadian poet George Elliott Scott, who was to deliver a lecture on truth and reconciliation at the university. He has since cancelled his lecture following controversy.
“I think what it highlights for all of us in the academy – when we have principles, such as academic freedom, how does that work with our principles of Indigenization and truth and reconciliation? And I think we’re learning together,” said Dr. Vianne Timmons.
The controversy surrounding Clarke’s lecture stemmed from his personal and working relationship with Steven Kummerfield, now known as Stephen Brown. In 1995, he was convicted in the beating death of Regina Indigenous woman Pamela George in a case that highlighted racial tensions in Saskatchewan.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) was among many who asked the University of Regina to cancel the lecture, but the university refused citing freedom of expression.
“As institutions of higher learning, we’re on a journey,” Timmons said. “And we’re on a journey with our Indigenous colleagues, and we’re going to stumble, and hopefully together we will figure that path out.”
Timmons said the university is committed to answering the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action. There are nine directly pertaining to education which include preserving Aboriginal languages and integrating Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
“The 94 calls to action are important. Important to Canadian society and the world. But we don’t have a menu, or a book that tells us – a Cole’s note of how to move forward with truth and reconciliation. We need to do that together, we need to be understanding and we need to learn,” Timmons said.
Earlier this month, the university said they’re deeply committed to creating a safe and welcoming campus for Indigenous students, staff and faculty. About 14 per cent of the student population at the U of R identify as Indigenous, said Timmons.
“It’s about looking at our institutions that have long, long-standing principles that have guided us and say ‘Are they the same principles we need going forward,’” Timmons said.
“It’s a challenge. I don’t have the answers. I’m stumbling and working along with everyone else on this journey.”