Building Reconciliation Forum 2023

Building Reconciliation Forum 2023

Education for Reconciliation: Rebuilding Stronger and with Intentionality

OII was proud to host the seventh annual Building Reconciliation Forum in June, an initiative of Universities Canada. For three days we provided a forum for educators, administrators and students in the postsecondary sector to share promising practices and innovative ideas for advancing Reconciliation in the academy.

See a copy of the Building Reconciliation Forum 2023 report below

Building the Chain of Connection

The work of Truth and Reconciliation is demanding and requires a lasting commitment. It is for that reason that the Building Reconciliation Forum is held every year. Only though ongoing education and the exploration of new ideas and promising practices can universities find their way to true Reconciliation in the classroom and beyond. 

The continuity of the Forum is embodied in the transmission of ceremonial objects between Forum hosts from one year to the next. At the 2023 Forum, Western received two such items: a hand-carved canoe paddle and a pair of moccasins, to honour and safeguard until the time comes to pass these along to the next host in 2024. These were delivered to Western by Algoma University and Université Laval/Université du Québec, who were the hosts of the 2019 and 2021 Forums, respectively.

The paddle was partially decorated by the past hosts, with space for future hosts to add artwork representing their ongoing commitment to Reconciliation. OII is currently consulting with Elders, community, staff and faculty to determine what Western’s contribution will look like.

Theme and Subthemes

The theme for the 2023 Forum was Education for Reconciliation: Rebuilding Stronger and with Intentionality It was chosen to reflect the need for rebuilding after the disruption caused by the pandemic, which slowed and sometimes even halted numerous initiatives within the academy. The theme aimed to highlight that the work for Truth and Reconciliation in postsecondary institutions is an ongoing project that requires constant attention and effort. It was further divided into four subthemes, which are outlined on the following pages.

Theme 1: Indigenous Knowledge as a Framework for Reconciliation and Education Sovereignty

Theme 1

Indigenous Knowledge as a Framework for Reconciliation and Education Sovereignty

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Brent Debassige (M’Chigeeng First Nation), Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Western University   

Lesley White-Eye (Chippewa of the Thames First Nation), Governance Director at First Nations with Schools Collective

Indigenous Knowledge, Reconciliation, and education sovereignty are deeply complex and contested concepts. In postsecondary environments, transformational change is needed and best served by those individuals who are involved, engaged, and have experience in both institutions and in Indigenous communities. Transformational change in universities should mobilize Indigenous futurities, make space for anti-oppressive critiques and Indigenous knowledges, and value Indigenous social and cultural capital while re/imagining, planning, and forging a way forward for Indigenous self-determination in and outside the institution.

Theme 2:  Moving forward towards the Next Seven Generations: Innovations and Resiliencies

Theme 2

Moving forward towards the Next Seven Generations: Innovations and Resiliencies

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Chantelle Richmond (Denı́nu Kų́ę́ First Nation), Associate Professor, Geography & Indigenous Studies, Canada Research Chair, Western University

Doing research that honours the next seven generations requires a relational approach that helps us remember where we came from, while at the same time offering new spaces of belonging. Dr. Richmond’s keynote discussed the importance of relationship, remembering, and belonging in support of Indigenous healing and wellness. Drawing upon examples of her own community-engaged research, Chantelle shared how she successfully integrates these principles meaningfully into her research, and how this active approach to addressing community needs is critically important in supporting the growth of healthy Indigenous communities as members of sovereign Nations.

Theme 3:  Indigenous Initiatives & Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Decolonization, and Indigenization

Theme 3

Indigenous Initiatives & Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Decolonization, and Indigenization

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Candace Brunette-Debassige (Petabeck First Nation), Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, and Teaching Fellow, Western University

The Trickiness of Institutional-Indigenization Work in Canadian Universities

This keynote address explored some of the deeper structural and ideological issues that limit institutional-Indigenization work in Canadian universities, with a particular focus on the lived experiences of Indigenous administrators striving to advance Indigenous educational sovereignty.

Theme 4:  Indigenous Knowledges and Sustainable Development

Theme 4

Indigenous Knowledges and Sustainable Development

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Lewis Williams (Tauranga Moana, Aotearoa), Associate Professor, Indigenous Studies & Geography, and Acting Director of Indigenous Studies, Western University

Indigenous environmental philosophy and the ethical remembering of who we are. 

Foregrounding the Maori concept of whakapapa —knowing your place in the universe— this presentation focused on four existential threats facing humanity today: climate and cultural-ecological crisis, growing wealth and power disparities, unprecedented human and inter-species displacement, and the erasure of Indigenous knowledges and lifeways. It also outlined three decolonial, regenerative place-based strategies for healing planet and people.


Three Calls to Action arising out of the Forum were identified, based on presentations, discussions, observations, and survey feedback from Forum participants, as well as the summations provided by the Forum Witnesses.

1. Greater involvement of university leaders

Greater involvement of university leaders

While Indigenous people are needed to inform and lead the work of decolonization and Indigenization, they cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of that tremendous responsibility alone. We are all Treaty people, and consequently Truth and Reconciliation involves everyone.

While Indigenous leaders provide guidance and direction to inform the decolonization and Indigenization of postsecondary institutions, every leader is charged with responsibility to make and keep the work of Truth and Reconciliation a daily priority.

2. Accountability in response to the TRC’s Calls to Action

Accountability in response to the TRC’s Calls to Action

All leaders, especially senior leaders and administrators, must actively support and advance the work of Truth and Reconciliation within each of their areas of direct influence and responsibility. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action (CTAs) identify clear actions where the education sector can respond immediately.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, all faculties, support units, and administrative offices should report annually on their progress in implementing relevant CTAs. Action and response to the challenges and obligations of Reconciliation should not be restricted to the institutional level—they can also be effected at a personal and individual level within postsecondary institutions.

3. Respectful and ongoing engagement of Indigenous peoples

Respectful and ongoing engagement of Indigenous peoples 

For the work of Reconciliation to occur, there needs to be robust, relevant, respectful, and meaningful engagement and collaboration with Indigenous peoples, especially Elders and Knowledge Keepers, who work outside the academy. This recommendation aligns with calls for greater representation of Indigenous people in senior leadership roles within all postsecondary institutions