Driving Institutional Change: Exploring Indigenous Leadership in Pacific Rim Universities

Year: 2021

Author: Page, Susan

Type of paper: Individual Paper

This presentation investigates the social and political constraints faced by Indigenous senior leaders in higher education, as described ininterviews with Māori, Australian and Canadian Indigenous senior leaders, and American First Nation senior leaders. A common taken-for-granted way of thinking and working in higher education is that the sector strives towards the common good, and aims to advance equity and parity in education for Indigenous academics, students and the wider community. Our presentation challenges this assumption, arguing higher education institutions tolerate advances for equity and racial justice if it serves to benefit the self-interests of the institution itself. We analyse the logics behind institutional polices from the point of view of the university and then problematise these logics from Indigenous leaders’ standpoint. We then provide place-based examples of reform-driven agential actions shouldered by senior Indigenous leaders, who despite contestations of similar experiences of colonisation, share a purpose of combating racism in the sector. In this way, we use neo-institutional theory to challenge deficit discourse surrounding Indigeneity, by showing Indigenous senior leaders are speaking back to interest-driven institutional policies and practices in the sector. As influential drivers of reform, engaging in future-oriented reform agendas, Indigenous leaders are contesting ongoing colonial hegemony in the sector.This presentation is drawn from the findings of the international phase of the Indigenous Australian led, qualitative study Walan Mayiny project: Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education, and uses a non-assimilationist and critical race theoretical framework to analyse Indigenous leadership in higher education that promotes Indigenous leaders’ pursuit of emancipation through educational sovereignty. We show by example there is much to be learnt from the Indigenous leaders located along the Pacific Rim. Consideration of this aspect of the study is crucial for the Australian context, as institutions face mounting pressure from Indigenous led movements of Truth Telling, the Makarrata and Voices in Parliament to seek restitution and reconciliation for historical and ongoing colonial wrongs. No doubt, it is a long and chicane-laden road, nevertheless, participants and literature corroborate that institutional reform led by Indigenous leaders who are working with a shared purpose in higher education is a powerful antidote to racism.