Senior Director, Indigenous Initiatives
Interim Associate Vice-President, Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion, University of Waterloo
Dedicated to enhancing indigenous education and programming at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, Jean Becker has made tremendous strides in advancing our understanding of indigenous affairs. Serving as the Senior Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Waterloo, Jean provides strategic leadership in identifying opportunities for systemic change while creating a long-term vision for the university. By building strong relationships between Canada’s indigenous communities and post-secondary institutions, Jean is playing an integral role in the evolution of higher education. Her work has been pivotal in addressing historic misconceptions of indigenous culture, while promoting a deeper understanding of the role that indigenous communities have played in shaping our nation’s past, present and future.
Jean’s inspiration for advancing indigenous education and awareness in post-secondary institutions comes from her own personal post-secondary school experiences. While attaining her undergraduate degrees in sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph, Jean took a course in women’s history, where the course material centred around the oppression of European women. Having grown up Inuk, as a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador, Jean could not relate to these stories of oppression in the Western world. Women in indigenous culture are highly regarded and are often the centre of the communities. Realizing that only one narrative of women’s history was being taught to hundreds of thousands of students across Canada, Jean committed herself to ensuring indigenous education became a bigger component of post-secondary curriculum.
Prior to her role at the University of Waterloo, Jean served as Senior Advisor of Indigenous Initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier University. During her time at Laurier, Jean oversaw indigenous student enrollment increase from 99 students to 600. She also helped implement crucial curriculum and programming changes and brought on a number of indigenous staff members, which she credits as the reason for the increased enrolment numbers.
At the University of Waterloo, Jean has also made significant contributions to the advancement of indigenous education. The university recently announced a cluster hire of 10 indigenous scholars that will be tasked with making curriculum changes across a variety of faculties. It is also in the process of hiring indigenous staff in other critical positions, including in the Office of Research, Recruitment and Admissions, as well as the Student Success Office. Jean is extremely optimistic that once the right people are in place, systemic changes to post-secondary education will follow.
Despite Jean’s professional accomplishments, she attributes her greatest impact to the relationships she has forged. Whether with students, faculty or indigenous communities as a whole, Jean is incredibly proud of the lasting impacts she has made on others around the world. She has inspired students to pursue careers helping people in indigenous communities across Canada. She has also made it her mission to use these relationships to learn, understand and honour the traditions and lifestyles of indigenous peoples.
Recognizing the roles that universities and colleges have played in the false depiction of indigenous communities, Jean is committing to ensuring that no student graduates from post-secondary school without a solid understanding about indigenous people and their history. She is confident that the University of Waterloo is well-positioned to accomplish this feat. From its executive leadership to the rank-and-file, the university is extremely supportive of indigenization. Jean believes this is an important stepping stone to broader societal change, where indigenous communities are called upon to find solutions to addressing inequality and historical wrongdoing.
Jean Becker has had a long and accomplished career in advancing our knowledge and understanding of indigenous people and implementing systemic changes at post-secondary institutions. She has published essential literature on the plight of indigenous peoples across Canada, including a chapter on violence against Aboriginal women in a 2006 book, Remembering Women Murdered By Men: Memorials Across Canada. She also published a Native Studies course on contemporary native communities of Canada for the University of Waterloo and co-authored the Aboriginal Head Start initiative for Health Canada, an early intervention program focused on early childhood development.
In addition to her published works, Jean has been a vocal advocate for indigenous rights and education through public speaking engagements across the country. She has participated in cultural sensitivity workshops on residential schools, as well as equity and human rights panels tackling sexual harassment, the child welfare system and discrimination against indigenous peoples in the justice system. She has also provided counselling for indigenous men in correctional institutes, youths living in group homes and households in crisis that are navigating Family and Children Service agencies.
Jean’s contributions to advancing our understanding of indigenous culture and history have been unparalleled and her continued focus on institutional change will live on for generations to come. You can view some of her accomplishments in the images below:
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