Indigenizing Work as “willful work”: Toward Indigenous Transgressive Leadership in Canadian Universities

  • Ahnungoonhs / Brent Debassige Western University
  • Candace Brunette-Debassige Western University


As Indigenous peoples employed at a university who are working to Indigenize it from within, in this article, we share our experiences, discuss some of our challenges, and show how we draw meaning and strength from Indigenous stories to ground us in our approach. We use Indigenous, anti-oppressive, anti-racist and decolonizing theories, Indigenous standpoints, embodied experiences, and emotive responses to make explicit the lived work realities of Indigenous people in mainstream universities. Through a dialogic approach, we trace one pathway for explicating Indigenous transgressive leadership in Canadian universities. In our discussion, we situate Indigenizing work as “willful work” (Ahmed, 2014). We call for a “strategic willfulness” as a constructive orientation, for Indigenous leaders to embrace, as we continue to confront the colonial, hetero-patriarchal and whitestream nature of Canadian universities. Most importantly, we underscore the need for Indigenous leaders involved in Indigenizing work in the university to draw from Indigenous epistemological and relational ethics in their leadership work, and to be strategically willful, interruptive and transgressive. 

Author Biographies

Ahnungoonhs / Brent Debassige, Western University
Brent Debassige is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University. He serves in the administrative roles of Director of Aboriginal Education and coordinator of the Master of Professional Education Program with a focus on Aboriginal Educational Leadership. As an Anishinaabe inni and Indigenous faculty member, Brent is guided by his learning in Anishinaabe traditional knowledge environments and by the research and scholarship in the areas of Indigenous Knowledge, Indigenous research methodologies, and Indigenous Education.
Candace Brunette-Debassige, Western University
Candace Brunette-Debassige is a PhD candidate in Western University’s Faculty of Education Critical Policy Equity and Leadership Studies Department.  An ongoing thread woven throughout Candace’s life work is an interest in addressing the liberatory and decolonizing struggles of Indigenous Peoples in the context of public education.  Her research takes an Indigenous story-based methodological approach to explore the lived experiences of Indigenous women leaders enacting Indigenizing policies inside Canadian universities.
Postcolonial Responses