British Columbia

Camosun College's indigenous peoples course aims to dispel aboriginal stereotypes

Starting this fall Camosun College in Victoria will be offering a course for non-aboriginal students to learn what it means to be indigenous in Canada.

Course discusses indian residential schools, First Nations and Métis’ distinctive worldview

Camosun's course explores the impact that the residential schools and other polices have had on aboriginal peoples and also celebrates their culture and worldview. (The Canadian Press)

Starting this fall Camosun College in Victoria will be offering a course for non-aboriginal students to learn what it means to be indigenous in Canada.

This course — which will explore First Nations and Métis' unique worldview as well as the trauma of the residential school system and Sixties Scoop — was previously only available for staff and faculty.

Corinne Michel, Camosun's indigenization coordinator, has been developing the course over the past few years.

Breaking down stereotypes

Michel, who is of the Secwepemc Nation, told All Points West host Kelly Nakatsuka that the course first began in 2009 as a module in an educator development program.

She explained that the course begins by exploring the strengths of First Nations and Métis in Canada.

"We talk about indigenous ways of seeing, being, doing and relating to the world, and how those are different from mainstream culture."

Michel said the course consisted of only a Microsoft Word document with hotlinks at first, but once the participants expressed interest in hearing from someone of indigenous heritage, the course was expanded to include a variety of learning materials (videos, podcasts and websites) and a talking circle.

From the mid 1800s to late 1990s thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their communities and placed in residential schools. An estimated 6,000 children died there. (Department of Indian and Northern Affairs/Library and Archives Canada )

She said it can be an emotional for participants to learn the true extent of the residential school system, especially once they've had to opportunity to absorb the survivors' testimonials and other material they've read.

"People think that they know of residential schools because they've hear the word...when they start learning the reality, there's tears and anger," she said.

"They wonder, 'Why didn't we learn about this before? I'm now in my mid-life and I'm learning about this for the first time.' It's part of our culture as a country, and they feel upset about that."

Talking circle fosters understanding, relationships

Michel said one of the biggest misconceptions that most people have about First Nations is that they receive "everything for free."

"The biggest blind spot is just not understanding the impact of the Indian Act and the impact of the land base being taken because...that has created the socio-economic conditions of indigenous people in this country. It's directly related to those policies. They don't understand that it's a legal contract with the Canadian government to provide those benefits like education, and health, and treaty rights, access to the land"

A talking circle facilitated by Camosun’s Indigenization Coordinator, Corrine Michel. (Supplied)

Now that this course is becoming more widely available at the college, Michel said she hopes that closer relations can be forged between indigenous people and non-aboriginal Canadians.

"I ask people to open their hearts and open their minds so that we can really start to understand each other, to really hear the impact that this has had on us as indigenous peoples and to hear also the strength and the resilience that we have in terms of moving forward."

She also hopes that other universities and colleges across the country develop their own similar courses, drawing from the elders and aboriginal cultures in their respective regions.

"I haven't met a person in the circle yet that — once they understand and hear the stories — they haven't opened up, even if it's just a little bit. And that's all I ever ask for."

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: Understanding Indigenous Peoples.


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