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Understanding our Roots - Nestimuk tan wtapeksikw

About Understanding our Roots

Understanding our Roots - Nestimuk tan wtapeksikw is a report of the Task Force on Settler Misappropriation of Indigenous Identity. 

The purpose of this task force was to make recommendations surrounding the disruption of false claims of Indigenous identity, membership, and citizenship at Dalhousie University. The task force sought to centre the voice of Indigenous people who have lived experience and expertise with this issue.

This report is intended to serve as the basis for future Dalhousie University policies related to the verification of Indigenous identity, citizenship, or membership.

Memos and updates

One of the recommendations of the Task Force on Settler Misappropriation of Indigenous Identity was to publish a five-year progress report on each of the recommendations made under the Dalhousie University Indigenous Strategy no later than December 2023.

Read: Indigenous Strategy progress update - December 2023 [PDF - 341 kb]

The Indigenous Strategy was created by the Indigenous Advisory Council at Dalhousie in 2018 to align with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) Report published in 2015. It lists 37 recommendations for the university.

The information compiled in this Progress Report provides a brief description of the advancements Dalhousie has made on the recommendations between 2018 and 2023. The information collected shows that, while progress on the 37 recommendations is at varying stages, it is intentional and ongoing. Some progress began before the Indigenous Strategy Report was published in 2018 and some was a direct result of the Indigenous Strategy recommendations. This update also demonstrates that we continue to have a lot to do.

Providing a progress update on the university’s work on the Indigenous Strategy is an important part of Dalhousie’s governance oversight. Our work to produce this report has served as a needed reminder that we need to be explicit about how we adopt strategies and how we ensure accountability and transparency on progress against those strategies. Work towards reconciliation is happening across many levels and units in the university. Therefore, this list is not exhaustive.  

Thank you to the academic and administrative units who provided information for this update, the Director of Indigenous Community Engagement and Office of Equity and Inclusion, as well as the Academic Leadership Certificate Team whose Action Leadership Project on the Indigenous Strategy informed this work.

If you would like to see additional items captured in this progress update, please email  


To:          The Dalhousie University community

From:       Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic

Date:       Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Re:         Update on the Understanding Our Roots report

Post-secondary institutions across Canada are engaged in important conversations to address legitimate concerns related to the misappropriation of Indigenous identity, membership, and citizenship. In October, the report from the Task Force on Settler Misappropriation of Indigenous Identity, titled Understanding our Roots (Nestimuk tan wtapeksikw), was shared with our Dal community. Dalhousie's policies and processes were not designed to address such a complex set of issues, and we remain fully committed to remedying this with ongoing guidance from Indigenous nations, especially the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Peskotomuhkati.

Again, I want to thank Task Force members — Dr. Brent Young, John R. Sylliboy, Elder Catherine Martin, and Elder Ann Labillois — for their important work. This report was designed to provide thoughtful guidance to Dalhousie in navigating these complex issues, and it is the culmination of multiple engagement sessions that involved representatives from several Indigenous governing bodies and organizations. Many Indigenous people at the university also took advantage of the opportunity to share their perspectives with the Task Force. I am enormously grateful for this strong foundation as we begin what will inevitably be an ongoing process of relationship-building with Indigenous nations. Since the publication of the Task Force report, leaders at Dalhousie have had the opportunity to connect with various Mi’kmaw leaders, and there is a clear sense of alignment around this work.

We are at a critical moment in Dalhousie's history, where we recognize that our current policies and processes are not working and the status quo is unacceptable, and we are fortunate to have Indigenous people within our institution who are willing to make considerable personal sacrifices to address an issue that is not of their making. These are difficult and often painful conversations, and the Task Force members have never wavered from a balanced and principled commitment to addressing the harms that arise from misappropriation of Indigenous identity at the university. Any disagreements related to the report or recommendations should be directed towards the university's Provost as we continue to foster a culture of open dialogue where everyone can feel safe contributing to this process.   

I also want to thank several colleagues who have taken the time to provide very detailed and valuable feedback on the Task Force report. Developing the appropriate tools to support Dalhousie and Indigenous nations on this journey will require months of consultations at the local, regional, and national levels. As we move forward, ongoing dialogue will be fundamentally important to ensure that all voices can be heard. We value all constructive feedback grounded in a strong commitment to nation-to-nation relationship-building.

We have established interim measures to help support searches that are designated specifically for Indigenous candidates. These measures have been in place since last year when the university recognized the need to move beyond self-identification in specific cases where identifying as an Indigenous person would bring significant material advantage. These interim measures are not used beyond this scope and have been shared with HR advisors — central HR has received guidance on implementation and is working with hiring managers and other HR admin personnel in support of these searches. The interim process will operate on a case-by-case basis (when materials are submitted) and the verification will be done — at this point — by an interim committee made up of Indigenous staff members at Dalhousie. Candidates are strongly encouraged to reach out should they have any questions or concerns about the request for materials and we are committed to supporting candidates through the process. As the university moves forward on operationalizing key Task Force recommendations, including the establishment of the Standing Committee (Recommendation #4), these measures will be reviewed and may change.

With respect to concerns regarding any investigations of current Dalhousie faculty, staff, or students who have self-identified as Indigenous, I want to be clear: there are no investigations. In the absence of broader, clearer, more transparent, and regular communications on next steps, unanswered questions often lead to assumptions that produce very harmful consequences. I acknowledge that our approach in sharing information to date has been insufficient and, consequently, has raised concerns among many of our colleagues, staff, and students. I am committed to improving our broader communications strategy moving forward.

In January we will be formally launching the search for Dalhousie's new Vice Provost Indigenous Relations (VPIR). The search process for the VPIR will begin with the formation of a search committee and the development of a broad consultation process. The VPIR will report to the Provost and Vice-President Academic and will work as a key partner to the Vice-Provost Equity & Inclusion and as a senior strategic advisor to the President and Vice-Chancellor and the senior leadership team. The VPIR will develop, implement, and promote high-visibility, high-impact initiatives for Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation. To do this work, the VPIR will work closely with the constellation of people and units involved in Indigenous initiatives at Dalhousie including the Director of Indigenous Community Engagement, senior leaders in Faculties and units across the university, and Dalhousie's Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) to advance necessary and constructive change. It is expected that the VPIR will further shape their role based on the needs of Indigenous nations and Dalhousie. Consultation related to this search will begin in January. We will also be working early in the new year to establish a search committee.

I have no doubt that everyone working with us on these processes is guided by a strong and principled commitment to addressing the challenges. We may disagree on the principles, but we should always acknowledge the goodwill, intentions, and competencies of any individual engaged in helping us develop a fair, transparent, and thoughtful process, policy, and tools.

I am very grateful for your continued patience and understanding.

Frank Harvey

Provost and Vice-President Academic

Dalhousie University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. We are all Treaty people.

We recognize that African Nova Scotians are a distinct people whose histories, legacies and contributions have enriched that part of Mi'kma'ki known as Nova Scotia for over 400 years.

On October 13, 2023, Dalhousie University President Kim Brooks and the university’s senior leadership team met with Indigenous community members at Millbrook First Nation to take the first step towards honoring the recommendations of the Understanding Our Roots report. The following apology was offered by Dr. Brooks on behalf of Dalhousie University to allow for more open dialogue between the university and community leaders.

October 1st was Treaty Day, and we are in the middle of Mi’kmaq History Month. This timing provides an opportune time to reflect on the promises of the Peace and Friendship treaties. Those treaties were designed to ensure peace between the British, Mi’kmaq, Wolatoquey, and Peskotomukhati. The unceded territories of these nations span the Maritimes and Gaspe region of Canada and the northeastern United States.  The Peace and Friendship Treaties were intended not only to preserve peace – something that has had variable success – but also to be honoured in friendship – with the obligation that we coexist together in a good way.  These treaties required us to attend to and steward our relationship.

As a colonial institution, and more specifically as Dalhousie University, we have much to learn and do to better honour our commitments, but in all steps, we must embrace a willingness to listen, learn and act in friendship and genuine partnership, building good relations. While we have made attempts to do this and rise to the TRC calls to action, mistakes have been made and so today I offer a heartfelt apology.

On behalf of Dalhousie University, to Indigenous Peoples, especially the Mi’kmaw, Wolastoqey, and Peskotomuhkati Nations, I apologize for the harms that have arisen from some of Dalhousie’s practices.  In particular, I apologize for our overreliance on Indigenous self-identification policies.

We apologize because our self-identification policy has not acknowledged and supported the inherent and legal right of Indigenous peoples to determine their own identity or membership based on their customs and traditions and in accordance with the Peace & Friendship Treaties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I offer this apology in the spirit of truth and our commitment to reconciliation recognizing that false claims of Indigenous identity have detrimental effects and create harm. They erode trust, lead to the misallocation of resources intended to support Indigenous Peoples, and they create unfair obligations on Indigenous peoples to press for honesty and truth. They undermine the integrity of Indigenous spaces within our still-colonial institutions. The harms are current and persistent.

Moving forward, Dalhousie will not infringe on the collective right of Indigenous Peoples to determine their own identity or membership. This is an important commitment not only because it is required by UNDRIP, and emphasized by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls but also because it is the most ethical and respectful thing to do if Dalhousie wants to build genuine and equitable relationships.

More generally, I would like to use this moment to express my own commitment to building deep and meaningful partnerships. I appreciate the report, “Understanding our Roots” reflects only a small part of the work we must do to ensure we act in the true spirit of friendship and reconciliation.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the task force members – Dr. Brent Young, John R. Sylliboy, Elder Ann LaBillois and Catherine Martin. Their support and guidance has been critical. I would also like to thank each Elder, colleague, community member, and leader for their invaluable contributions to the report and to this process and to everyone who took the time to gather together in the spirit of friendship today. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow as we progress our work to understand and take action together.

The following message was emailed to Dalhousie students, faculty and staff upon release of the Understanding Our Roots report.

Kwe' (Greetings):

Dalhousie is committed to building deep and meaningful partnerships with Indigenous Peoples across Canada. This commitment is especially true of our relationship with the Mi’kmaw, Wolastoqey, and Peskotomuhkati Nations on whose territories the university resides. This work is guided by our Strategic Plan 2021-2026, Si’st Kasqimtlnaqnipunqekl Teli L’wi’tmasimk — Third Century Promise‚ and the Dalhousie Indigenous Strategy 2018.

In the Spring of 2023, a Task Force was formed to address the issue of settler misappropriation of Indigenous identity. The Task Force led an Indigenous engagement process that involved community leaders, governing bodies, and kinship networks. Given that Dalhousie University’s largest campuses are located in Nova Scotia, there was a particular emphasis on engaging with the Mi’kmaw community in the province. The resulting report, Understanding our Roots, is one piece of the larger reconciliatory process that provides Dalhousie with a deeper understanding of how colonialism operates within our institution. It calls on us to forge a wider path towards authenticity and accountability.

Over the coming months we will be consulting with the Task Force members, Dalhousie community, and Mi’kmaw, Wolastoqey, and Peskotomuhkati Nations as we advance our understanding of and action in response to the report’s recommendations.

Dalhousie would like to thank the Task Force members — Dr. Brent Young, John R. Sylliboy, Elder Ann LaBillois, and Catherine Martin. This group worked tirelessly to find a way forward amidst pain and uncertainty. Their ongoing guidance will be critical as we revise and improve our processes and policies. I would also like to thank each Indigenous Elder, colleague, community member, and leader for their invaluable contributions to this report. Their honest, direct, and thoughtful input enabled us to approach this complex issue in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Students, faculty and staff who have questions about the report’s recommendations should reach out to

Those requiring additional support can reach out to the following university resources:

  • The Elders in Residence program is available to students across campus, The Elders are committed to being available to students for guidance, counsel and support.
  • The Indigenous Student Centre helps create a sense of belonging to support student success while at Dalhousie. Our Indigenous Student Advisor provides support and advocacy for all of Dalhousie’s Indigenous students.
  • Dalhousie’s Human Rights and Equity Services provides confidential advice and support if a member of our community has faced race-based harassment and/or discrimination.
  • Students who require immediate support should contact Student Health and Wellness by phone to book an appointment: 902-494-2171 (Halifax); 902-893-6369 (Truro). Additional e-mental health options for students are available, including Good2Talk – free and confidential counselling for post-secondary students; Ask a Nurse – confidential answers to your health questions within 72 hrs; and TAO – an online mental health library.
  • Faculty and staff resources are available through our confidential Employee and Family Assistance Program, which can be accessed at, either with Dal NetID login or generic login using username dal and password wellness, or by calling 1-800-387-4765. Please also visit MyDal for additional supports and resources.

Frank Harvey
Provost and Vice President Academic

Dalhousie University acknowledges that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People, and pays respect to the Indigenous knowledges held by the Mi’kmaq People, and to the wisdom of their Elders past and present. The Mi'kmaq People signed Peace and Friendship Treaties with the Crown, and section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty rights. We are all Treaty people.

We recognize that African Nova Scotians are a distinct people whose histories, legacies and contributions have enriched that part of Mi’kma’ki known as Nova Scotia for over 400 years.