Manitoba

Brandon University students' union wants mandatory Indigenous class

Brandon University could join the ranks of post-secondary institutions that makes education about Indigenous history and culture mandatory for students.

The university's students union has been calling for the requirement

Brandon University is in the early stages of discussing what a more prominent Indigenous education program could look like at the school. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Brandon University may soon join the ranks of post-secondary institutions that are making education about Indigenous history and culture mandatory for students.

The university is in the early stages of discussing what a more prominent Indigenous education program could look like at BU. A committee of administrators, faculty and students has been struck and will start meeting in December.

BU's students union has been calling for the requirement after speaking with students who said they want to see a greater emphasis on Indigenous education at BU. 

"A lot of students are saying this is wonderful. They would like to see this," said Nick Brown, student union president. "They would also like to see an expansion to our native studies department."

Brandon University already offers a number of Indigenous history and culture through the Native Studies program.

All options on the table 

The discussions follow a call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year for educational systems to put a greater emphasis on teaching Indigenous history.

Steven Robinson, a senior administrator at BU, said all options are on the table right now, including making certain courses mandatory for students. Other options are also being looked at.

"Rather than introducing new courses or mandating existing courses for everybody, you would find ways of getting  Indigenous content into each course that is already being taught," Robinson said. 

Brown said the union wants to see something in place by September 2018, enough time for proper consultation to take place and for new courses, if they are needed, to be written into the academic calendar. 

Robinson said an estimated 15 per cent of BU's population identifies as Indigenous.

However the thought of having to take a mandatory course on Indigenous culture or history is a thought that doesn't sit well with some university students.

"If it was taking away a course slot ... it would take longer to get through the courses that I actually had to or wanted," said first-year student Kira Toth, adding that she would rather see the current offerings kept as optional. 

Some said they would worry about their GPA if they had to take such a class, while others worried about having enough room in their schedules for other classes. 

"I would rather not have to take that and give up a class that I'd really like to stay instead," student Quincy Martens said. "It's not really going to affect what I'm taking and what I want to do."

Hayley Sigurdson is a first-year history major who grew up learning about Indigenous culture and believes a lot of students would benefit. 

"Brandon University has a lot of international students so I think it would be pretty interesting for them to learn about it," she said. "I think it'll be a pretty interesting course for people to take."

Brown offered this response when asked how he might deal with students who say they are opposed to mandatory courses.

"We need to recognize that [Brandon University is on treaty land] and recognize the colonial past that we've had here in Canada, in Manitoba, in Brandon."

Robinson said part of the discussions will involve looking at what other post-secondary institutions are doing.

The University of Winnipeg's new Indigenous course requirement makes first-year students choose at least one of almost two dozen courses to fulfil the requirement. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., has implemented a similar requirement.  

Whatever the committee decides is best for Brandon, Brown said it has to serve one key purpose. 

"We'd like to see Indigenous education across the board in some format, be it units of all first year courses, be it a course requirement that you have to take ... We want to see education justice here at BU." 

Corrections

  • Brandon University is on Treaty 2 land. An earlier version of this article had incorrect information.
    Nov 02, 2016 10:30 AM CT

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