The University of Winnipeg's students' association wants to make it mandatory for all students to take an indigenous course.

Association president Rorie McLeod-Arnould said while the university is a hub of progressive thought, it's not free of racism and bigotry.

"If we want to create a welcoming environment at the University of Winnipeg, if we want to make sure that we continue to lead the debate on how we're going to move forward in the 21st Century, how we are going to find meaningful reconciliation between indigenous peoples and the broader Canadian community?" he said.

"This is one of the ways that we have to do it."

To that end, the association, in partnership with the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Students Council, has developed a requirement for all undergraduates to take one course in order to learn about indigenous history, culture, and lived experience.

'First of it's kind'

University of Winnipeg

University of Winnipeg (Donna Lee/CBC)

"I think this project is really positive," said Raven Hart-Bellecourt, co-chair of the Aboriginal Student Council. "I think we're leaning in the direction that we can make small changes in this institution."

Hart-Bellecourt said if the U of W instituted the mandatory indigenous course requirement, it would be the first university in Canada to do so.

"There's nothing like this. It will be the first of it's kind in Canada. And what's really great about this project is it's so flexible," said Hart-Bellecourt. "We have over a 100 different courses that have indigenous knowledge, learning, ways of knowing, epistemologies."

McLeod-Arnould said that ensuring younger generations gain a sense of indigenous culture should be a priority at the university.

"If you want to live in the city of Winnipeg in the 21st Century, it is important that you have some understanding ... What it's like to be an indigenous person here," said McLeod. 

"In a lot of ways it is one of the seminal questions of the 21st Century and it is important that thought leaders who are coming out of universities like ours have a serious, grounded understanding of where we're coming from."

There are numerous indigenous-themed courses at the university. Students would be required to choose one.

"We propose that all undergraduate students at the University of Winnipeg be required to take three credit hours from a list of approved courses," states the proposal.

If approved, the requirement would apply to all students who begin their studies in the fall 2016.

"If we can play a role as the University of Winnipeg in helping to educate people a little about the history, a little about the contemporary reality and a little bit about the indigenous culture, then I think we can go a long way in shifting some of the attitudes," said Wab Kinew, associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at the U of W.

McLeod-Arnould said the course is a step in the right direction toward addressing racism in Winnipeg.

"It's not a solution to the question of racism and intolerance. We're not going to eradicate bigotry, but this is a step that is within in our means at the university."

On mobile? See the university proposal here