'It's not just add Indigenous and stir': U of S's indigenization approach raising questions

In two years from now, the University of Saskatchewan is planning to make Indigenous education mandatory for all 21,000 students.

School plans to make some form of Indigenous education mandatory for all colleges

The $17-million Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre at the University of Saskatchewan was recently competed as part of an effort to 'indigenize' campus. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Some University of Saskatchewan members are raising questions about the school's efforts to "indigenize," especially how it will tackle its goal of making Indigenous content mandatory of all students.

"It's not just 'add Indigenous and stir,'" said longtime U of S Indigenous studies professor Priscilla Settee.

"It's a world view and it takes a long time to learn how to do it respectfully, even for those of us that are Indigenous."

Settee, a member of the Cumberland House Cree Nation, and most others interviewed applaud the overall goal of doing more to include First Nations and Métis perspectives and people at the U of S. But they aren't sure the action will match the talk.

"It's a nice idea — I just wish we knew more about it," said U of S Indigenous Students' Council vice-president Lisa Durocher-Bouvier.

University president Peter Stoicheff has called indigenization one of his highest priorities. If the U of S, and Saskatchewan as a whole, doesn't work to improve the relationship between Indigenous people and the general public, nothing else matters, he said.

Some steps have already been taken. There's the new $17-million Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre on campus.

Efforts to recruit Indigenous students and faculty have also intensified.

University president Peter Stoicheff has called indigenization one of his highest priorities. (CBC)

The concern lies with an ambitious overhaul of the curriculum for all 21,000 students. There's a plan to make some form of Indigenous education mandatory for all colleges. The changes are supposed to take effect two years from now.

But there aren't nearly enough professors in the department of Indigenous studies to teach everyone.

So will professors of agriculture or engineering or French literature be expected to teach it? If so, who will decide whether the material meets cultural and academic standards? These are some of the questions being asked by Settee and others.

"Who's qualified? What's their background to teach this information? It's one thing to have goodwill and that, but really it needs a deep understanding of the many realms that it intersects with, like historical, cultural, political, gender — all of those issues that it takes a lifetime to lean, to learn the accurate history," Settee said.

"You can't just do it haphazardly."

Indigenization a sensitive issue

In an interview, vice-provost Patti McDougall initially took exception to labelling the Indigenous curriculum as mandatory. She preferred to say graduates will "have had access to" Indigenous material.

"Words like 'mandatory' get everybody alarmed and it pulls for fear when you're making big changes as we are," McDougall said.

When pressed, she acknowledged "mandatory" and "required" are accurate terms.

The University of Saskatchewan's Patti McDougall noted there are those who oppose indigenization. (CBC)

McDougall agreed with Settee and others who say there's a lot of work to do, but she's confident everyone can rise to the challenge. McDougall said some colleges, like arts and science and nursing, are already making plans. The college of education is working with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner.

She said there will not be one standard course. The college of law or the school of public health, for example, could tailor the Indigenous material to their fields.

McDougall also noted there are also those who oppose indigenization. Some professors argue that for everything that's added to the curriculum, something has to be taken out. Some students say Indigenous studies aren't relevant to their field of study.

But McDougall thinks indigenization is something the university must pursue. She said it is relevant to all fields and to everyone in society.

"It's about perspectives and shaping the way the leaders of tomorrow are going to be thinking about these issues," McDougall said.

Indigenization long overdue, says student leader

Indigenous Student Society president Regan Ratt-Misponas said U of S administrators could do a better job communicating, but they are getting better. Stoicheff met with the society executive earlier this month and was eager to listen to their concerns, Ratt-Misponas said.

University of Saskatchewan Indigenous Students Society president Regan Ratt-Misponas and vice-president Lisa Durocher-Bouvier say they approve of efforts to 'indigenize' the campus but add that many questions remain. (Jason Warick)

Ratt-Misponas said there are many unanswered questions, but one thing is clear: Indigenization is long overdue.

"We live in the city where the name Neil Stonechild exists. We live in the province where the name Colten Boushie exists. We live in a country where there's a conversation that's ongoing about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," he said.

"That's a conversation we need to have in the spirit of reconciliation, in the spirit of treaty, in the spirit of Indigenization. Those are conversations we need to have to do our best for the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It's needed for the betterment of our future."


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.