Skip to McMaster Navigation Skip to Site Navigation Skip to main content
McMaster Logo McMaster logo

Canadian Context

While the five principles for inclusive education expanded in Columbia University’s guidebook are highly relevant to our Canadian context, there are several policy, legislative, and historical distinctions in our national and provincial context that have a bearing on our teaching practice to enhance equity and inclusion.

These include:

  • Calls to Action to Further Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous communities
  • Legislative Requirements and University Policy: Human Rights, Accessibility, and Freedom from Discrimination and Harassment
  • Freedom of Expression, Protest and Dissent

We elaborate these below and their specific teaching implications.

Expandable List

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada was established to document the history and lasting impacts of residential schools on Indigenous children and their families. In 2015, the TRC announced 94 Calls to Action aimed at redressing the legacy of residential schools and promoting reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Calls to Action specific to education include: (1) addressing the educational and employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, (2) eliminating the ongoing discrepancy in funding Indigenous education, and (3) educating for reconciliation.

In June of 2015, Universities Canada articulated a statement of Principles on Indigenous Education, encouraging universities to enact education-related recommendations emergent from the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2012/2015) and aligned with UNDRIP principles.

In its nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada has also, in the last decade, renewed its commitment to recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership, “rooted in the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)”[1].

The University has committed to initiatives to facilitate reconciliation through education, improved academic programming, increased access to equitable learning, and Indigenous research support; these initiatives are occurring across the institution.

In 2016, McMaster released an official Land Acknowledgement to acknowledge and recognize Indigenous peoples’ long standing connections with the traditional territories on which the institution resides: McMaster University recognizes and acknowledges that it is located on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations, and within the lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement. The Land Acknowledgement emphasizes that non-Indigenous settlers are guests on this territory. This Land Acknowledgement does not make up for Canada’s colonial history; rather, it is intended as a step towards truth and reconciliation.

The University aims to advance Indigenous programming by engaging Indigenous communities and educating students about Indigenous knowledges and histories.

McMaster’s Indigenous Studies Program (ISP), founded in 1992, recently moved to its new location in L.R. Wilson Hall. This new space includes community learning environments like the Ceremonial Room, Elders Room, Teaching Kitchen, and the student library which features hundreds of books on Indigenous Knowledge. In the early 2000’s, McMaster also established the Indigenous Student Health Services Office (ISHS) dedicated to providing services and supports for the academic success and wellbeing of all First Nations, Inuit and Métis students in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster.

In 2015, McMaster expanded its Indigenous curriculum by launching a Four-Year Honours Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Indigenous Studies; collaborative courses with other programs have been established to introduce indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing across disciplines. Recently, the Arts and Science Program and School of Social Work implemented three mandatory courses in Indigenous studies as part of their curricula, and conversations about required Indigenous coursework for all students are ongoing between community members and senior administrators.

In 2016, the University unveiled The Indigenous Circle to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous knowledge for McMaster and its community; this outdoor space is used for classes, ceremonies, and performances. Also in 2016, the University inducted a Director of Indigenous Student Services (ISS) to facilitate enhanced guidance and support for Indigenous students at McMaster. Admissions and financial awards specific to students who self-identify as Indigenous have been established to support Indigenous learners.

McMaster University recognizes the right of Indigenous peoples to engage in their cultural and spiritual ceremonies on campus. Smudging is one such ceremony; the Smudging Protocol serves to provide information and guidance to the McMaster community in order that Indigenous-identified individuals and groups are affirmed and supported when they engage in their cultural and spiritual practices, including Smudging. See the Smudging Protocol and the Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observance (RISO) policy for more information.

What this means for educators:

  • Educators are encouraged to review the TRC Calls to Action, especially those that relate to education, as well as Universities Canada Principles on Indigenous Education. We hold individual and collective responsibility for contributing to truth and reconciliation efforts in our teaching practice.
  • In the Guidebook, Principle 3 includes examples that can prompt us to consider how to integrate attention to Indigenous histories and knowledge in our courses.
  • Review McMaster’s Indigenous Education Primer

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), places a legal obligation on organizations to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to accessibility governance and training, goods and services, facilities, information and communication, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025. The implementation of the requirements of the AODA is staggered and integrative with almost all of the requirements occurring before the 2025 goal. As set out in the Policy on Accessibility, the University is committed to accessibility as expressed in AODA. Please visit the AODA section on McMaster’s Accessibility Hub for more information about legislative roles and responsibilities. You can refer to McMaster’s Accessibility Policy for more information.

The same rights and obligations as set out in the Human Rights Code, as well as a prohibition against general harassment, are set out in the University Policy on Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention and Response, while the Sexual Violence Policy includes prohibitions against sexual harassment as well as acts targeting gender identity and gender expression. The Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities outlines accommodations procedures in line with AODA. The Academic Accommodations for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances aligns with provisions in the Human Rights Code.  In addition, the Undergraduate Course Management Policy outlines what policy statements must be included in undergraduate course outlines.

What this means for educators:

  • Educators at McMaster are responsible for familiarizing themselves with and following McMaster policies on accommodation and prevention/response to discrimination and sexual violence.
  • Enacting the five inclusive education principles is an important step for proactively facilitating accessibility for students so that we support the provincial goal of achieving accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
  • Applying these principles will also contribute to creating equitable and inclusive educational environments and learning experiences, goals established in the university’s Equity Diversity and Inclusivity Strategy.
  • Educators are strongly encouraged to take Flex Forward training offered through McMaster to further enhance their support for accessibility in their teaching and to contact the Equity and Inclusion Office for addition training related to inclusivity.

As an institution of higher learning, McMaster University is committed to upholding fundamental Charter Rights including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all its members. This includes the rights and freedoms of members of our community to exchange ideas, question and challenge received wisdom, engage in respectful and informed debate, discuss even the most potentially controversial issues, and engage in peaceful protest and dissent. In exercising these freedoms, all members of the University community are, however, required to respect the freedoms and human rights of others and are expected to engage with one another in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and regard for human dignity.

With respect to their pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, University faculty (along with those who are invited to participate in academic fora at McMaster) enjoy the additional protections of academic freedom to pursue multiple avenues of inquiry; to teach and to learn unhindered by non-academic constraints; and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion, even when unpopular or even abhorrent.

These freedoms are not incompatible with some administrative decisions being exercised where circumstances warrant, nor would they necessarily preclude all claims that a student was discriminated against in the provision of educational services by the University or its Faculty. These freedoms may also be limited by statute and common law on grounds ranging from defamation law to criminal prohibitions against hate speech.

What this means for educators:

  • Educators are responsible for teaching in a way that respects the rights and freedoms of all students  in accordance with relevant university policies and legislation, and that facilitates mutual respect, understanding, and regard for human dignity among students.
  • Controversial topics may arise in the classroom in a planned or unplanned way. Drawing on the principles of inclusive teaching and learning, and teaching strategies developed through training offered by the MacPherson Institute and/or the Equity and Inclusion Office, can enable you to more skillfully facilitate difficult discussion, debate and dialogue to more effectively navigate such challenging topics.