University of Winnipeg Ojibwe Language Program
Stewart Racette/Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre
Students take part in the University of Winnipeg’s Ojibwe language programming at the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre in Winnipeg.

Indigenous Studies Now Required at Two Canadian Universities

Rick Kearns

Indigenous studies will be required for graduation from two Canadian universities as of next year with another institution discussing the idea.

In mid-November both the University of Winnipeg (UW) in Manitoba Province and Lakehead University (LU) in Ontario announced that students will have to pass a three-credit course in indigenous history or culture to graduate starting in September of 2016.

The required courses include some on indigenous history or culture, contemporary indigenous issues, local indigenous languages, indigenous ways of knowing and research methodologies.

For many indigenous students and faculty the new requirement is seen as a very positive step towards educating all students about the history and current reality of indigenous people in Canada.

“All the aboriginal/indigenous students that I spoke to about this initiative were very thrilled and excited,” said Saide-Phoenix Lavoie (Ojibway), the Co-President of the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Student Council and one of the activists who has been working towards this goal.

“Most aboriginal students fall victim to stereotypes, covert and overt racism,

misunderstandings and misconceptions of history, and their views are at times undermined by a lot of the student body and community in general,” Lavoie said.

“They fully supported our efforts the entire way, and were very thankful that this was finally happening,” she added.

Lavoie noted that the idea was first formally proposed at UW in 2009 and since then both the Aboriginal Student Council and the University of Winnipeg Student Association (UWSA), along with allies in the faculty, kept the issue alive by meeting with all sectors of the university and local indigenous community.

One of the other supporters of the indigenous studies requirement, Dr. Jacqueline T. Romanow (Metis), Department Chair and Associate Professor in UW’s Department of Indigenous Studies, asserted that the courses are a “positive start” in the process of educating fellow Canadians.

“There is a great deal of injustice in the history of Canada,” Romanow pointed out. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified cultural genocide to be a fact of Canadian history.”

“How many Canadians know this? Understand what happened and what this really means?” she continued. “If we are ever to have meaningful reconciliation between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of Canada, there must be a full recognition of the truth.”

Learning the truth about indigenous history and reality could become requirements in other universities as well. Lavoie said that she and Kevin Settee, Anishinaabe/Ogimaabinens, who is the Vice-President of UWSA, have received requests from students from all across Canada to advise them on how to push for an indigenous course requirement at their universities.

On November 26, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union announced that they are asking for indigenous content be taught in every degree program. University officials have said they are open to the idea.

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