Sunday September 11, 2016

Mandatory learning: Indigenous course requirement launched at Canadian university

University of Winnipeg

University of Winnipeg (Donna Lee/CBC)

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Teaching younger generations about Indigenous history is one of the key calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This year two Canadian universities are taking that call seriously, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario and the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba.

University of Winnipeg students starting an undergraduate degree this year will now learn about Indigenous history, experience and culture as part of a mandatory Indigenous course requirement.

Student driven after elder disrespected

Kevin Lamoureaux is vice-president of Indigenous affairs for the university, he said the initiative came from a group of students.

Kevin Lamoureux

Kevin Lamoureux, vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at the UW said Indigenous Course Requirement was an initiative that came from students. (Facebook)

"They shared this really profound story that touched me, about coming onto campus and going to one of their classes where one of their instructors had invited an elder. [Then]

watching their colleagues, their fellow students react, rolling their eyes and making jokes and totally discrediting the value of having an elder in one of the courses," he said.

"They [took] it upon themselves that this has to change.  The best way to fight racism is through education and awareness and a better relationship."

Lamoureaux said students will have a wide variety of courses to choose from, across a range of faculties.

"All we did was take those courses and compile a list and made them available for students to choose from to meet this requirement," he said.

In addition, they gave faculty opportunities to meet with elders and community leaders so that the approach was collaborative.

"These courses are all pre-existing but they've been renewed and reinvigorated and they are part of a community effort."

Towards Truth and Reconciliation

Lamoureaux said while they have heard criticism about the Indigenous course requirement, it is criticism they have heard before, when mandatory education courses were made for teachers.

"The end result of that journey is that schools are richer for that experience. Teachers are richer. They feel more empowered. They feel better prepared to respond in a good way to all the stories and issues they see around them," he said.

He said that students signing up now are part of history and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"You expect some misgivings and some grumbling but it hasn't been that. Students are lining up to take courses on residential school. Term after term of people that are interested in learning the truths, some hard truths about Canada because they want to do better. This doesn't come out of thin air. This is part of a broader social movement towards truth and reconciliation."