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Bringing the Queen’s and Indigenous communities together

Gift from David Sharpe (Law'95) will fund a three-year program integrating Aboriginal knowledge and wisdom into the academic environment and develop connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars.

[Gift from David Sharpe (Law'95)]
David Sharpe (Law'95), Indigenous Recruitment and Support Coordinator Ann Deer, former Faculty of Law Dean Bill Flanagan, and Faculty of Law Dean Mark Walters, attend the Chief R. Donald Maracle Reconciliation/Indigenous Knowledge Fund gift announcement. (Photo by Rai Allen)

A gift from David Sharpe (Law’95) will bring a highly-respected Indigenous scholar to Queen’s University to lead a new program to promote reconciliation and Indigenous cultures on campus.

Sharpe, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, made a $250,000 donation to fund the Indigenous Knowledge Initiative, a three-year program that will integrate Aboriginal knowledge and wisdom into the academic environment and develop connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars.

The donation helps support the efforts of Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, which outlines 25 recommendations for sustained institutional change to create a more welcoming environment for Indigenous students, staff and faculty.

“Queen’s is doing much more for the Indigenous community than when I was a student (in the 1990s), but there is still more to be done,” says Sharpe.

The gift enables Queen’s to bring Indigenous scholar Professor Mark Dockstator to campus this fall to lead the Indigenous Knowledge Initiative. Dockstator is a member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, and was the first person from a First Nation to graduate with a doctorate in law. He recently completed a five-year term as president of First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Sask., that saw the school reach record levels of student enrolment.

Sharpe would like to see that success at Queen’s.

“I want more Indigenous students to come to Queen’s and be able to embrace their culture,” he says. “Mark Dockstator is the perfect person to bring the Queen’s and Indigenous communities closer together. He is very familiar with both the academic and Indigenous worlds.”

Exactly how the Indigenous Knowledge Initiative will bring the two communities closer together will be decided by Dockstator through a year-long consultation process with elders, Indigenous faculty and students, and administrative leaders. The following two years will see the recommended programs launched and refined.

Sharpe believes access to post-secondary education is key to helping Aboriginal students and communities. His Queen’s Law degree, along with an MBA from Richard Ivey School of Business and a Master of Laws from Osgoode, led to a successful career on Bay Street in the financial services industry. He is currently the CEO of Bridging Finance Inc., one of the few alternative financing companies in Canada that fund First Nations and Inuit infrastructure projects.

“I have an opportunity to make a difference, and the only way I know how to do that is through education and economic development,” says Sharpe.

The Indigenous Knowledge Initiative is supported by the Chief R. Donald Maracle Reconciliation/Indigenous Knowledge Fund, which Sharpe established in honour of Don Maracle, the long-time chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.

Queen’s University is making its campus more welcoming to the Indigenous community by implementing the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force recommendations. A 2018 progress report highlights many actions taken, including doubling the size of the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre to meet the demands of a growing Indigenous community and installing a permanent Indigenous art display in the Queen’s Law atrium to honour both Canada’s Indigenous legal traditions and the principals of reconciliation.

This article was first published on the Queen's Alumni website.