High hopes for mandatory Indigenous courses set to start at U of W

All students getting ready to hit the books next week at the University of Winnipeg will have one course in common — a mandatory Indigenous class.

More than 80 per cent of seats for approved courses have been filled

University of Winnipeg Students Association President, Kevin Settee, is hoping that as many first year students as possible register for the mandatory Indigenous course requirement. (Lenard Monkman)

All students getting ready to hit the books next week at the University of Winnipeg will have one course in common — a mandatory Indigenous class.

It's one of two universities in Canada introducing a mandatory Indigenous course requirement this school year.

"[The] initiative was born out of the Aboriginal student council because of negative things that were happening on campus — racist texts on bathroom stalls, overall racism and negative experiences in classrooms," said Kevin Settee, the first Indigenous president of the U of W Students Association.

Settee has been instrumental in making the mandatory course requirement a reality.

As of this school year, the university will require every student starting this year to choose one Indigenous course from a range of subjects, including history, political science, linguistics and religion.

Kevin Lamoureux, the university's new associate vice president of Indigenous affairs, said the institution has 24 approved courses and hopes to add 60 more in the near future.

As of Aug. 25, more than 80 per cent of the 1,900 seats in the approved courses had been filled.

Awareness important for all fields

Lamoureux said student feedback has been positive and he expects the courses will be well received.

"When people ... become aware of some truths that they haven't been exposed to, by and large, Canadians want to be a part of the solution," said Lamoureux. "We generate more and more people that will stand in solidarity with us, I think that that's what is going to happen moving forward."

The need for general awareness on Indigenous people and culture is significant in places like Manitoba, where Indigenous people are the fastest growing demographic in the province.

According to a 2011 Statistics Canada report, nearly 17 per cent of Manitoba's population identified as aboriginal — four times the Canadian average.

"No matter what field, department or faculty, these students are in, they're going to be working with Indigenous people" said Settee.

"If you're a health care provider, if you're a teacher, if you're going to become a lawyer, whatever job you're going to do, you're going to interact and be working with indigenous people, and most importantly, you're going to be working on treaty land."

Settee understands the need for a respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, and he hopes that as many "first year students as possible in their first year register for the Indigenous course requirement."

'I don't mind taking it at all'

However, on the week before classes were set to begin, many of the first year students on campus told CBC News they weren't planning to take the required course in their second or third year.

Still, nearly all students recognized the importance of the courses.

"It's a good way to learn more about Indigenous culture," said Matthew Reimer, who is signed up for an course in Indigenous history. "It will give me more knowledge about what this country is all about."

Some, like Emma Welham, weren't aware of the course requirement, but thought it was a good idea.

"​I don't mind taking it all," said Welham. "I would love to learn how to speak one of the languages that the Indigenous people speak, or to learn more about their history or their culture."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1