Indigenous leaders managing settler colonialism: Candace Brunette-Debassige, The Trickiness of Settler Colonialism: Indigenous Women Administrators’ Experiences of Policy in Canadian Universities, PhD dissertation, The University of Western Ontario, 2021


Abstract: Since the release in 2015 of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, a plethora of new administrative policies has emerged in universities. A variety of interconnecting Indigenous administrative roles has also arisen, many of which have been taken up by Indigenous women who find themselves working in challenging and complex contexts steeped in settler colonialism. Studies of the challenges these women face—indeed of Indigenous educational leadership and policies in higher education in general—are, however, sorely lacking. The present study is a qualitative exploration of the embodied experiences of twelve Indigenous women administrators (including the primary researcher) working in Canadian universities. The purpose of the study is to address gaps in the research literature and end the “deafening silence” (Fitzgerald, 2003) of Indigenous women’s voices in educational leadership and policy research. Drawing on an Indigenous storying methodology combined with an arts-informed approach to Indigenous storytelling using Cree Weesakechahk dramatic trickster form, the study tells the stories of Indigenous women leaders who are expected to implement the promises of Indigenizing policies. The research questions center on understanding (a) how Indigenous women experience their leadership work amidst increasing pressures and debates; (b) how they experience policy enactment processes; and (c) how they resist the limits of the settler colonial academy in their leadership work. Situated within an Indigenous feminist decolonial theoretical framework and drawing on Indigenous story as theory, the findings suggest that Indigenous women who are working in settler colonial academic structures, leading in male dominated leadership contexts, and working on the borderland between Euro-Western institutions and Indigenous communities often feel trapped in a “triple bind” (Fitzgerald 2006). While findings suggest that Indigenous women face triple binds and struggle at the intersections of tricky policy enactment processes, I argue that, because settler colonialism is pervasive in university structures and power dynamics, Indigenous women enact “Indigenous refusals” (Grande, 2019) as part of their leadership and policy work. Through these Indigenous refusals, they resist settler colonial attempts to erase and assimilate Indigenous peoples and knowledges, and contribute to deeper levels of change in universities.

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