Concordia University faculty visit Kahnawake as part of campus effort to include Indigenous knowledge

Faculty from Concordia University spent Friday in Kahnawake, learning bits of history at the 207 Longhouse and educational approaches as a part of a monthly seminar series on decolonizing and Indigenizing the school.

'Universities have always played an instrumental role in perpetuating Eurocentric curriculum'

Donna Goodleaf started her role in January as Concordia University’s Indigenous curriculum and pedagogy advisor. (Submitted by Concordia University)

Sara Kennedy drove by Kahnawake many times, but only recently visited the Kanien'kehá:ka community on Montreal's south shore for the first time.

"It's a real eye-opener," said Kennedy, an associate professor in the department of education at Concordia University.

"It's really nice to see a part of a community that wouldn't normally see when you just drive by."

Kennedy was one of three dozen faculty members at the university to spend Friday in the community, learning bits of history at the 207 Longhouse and educational approaches as a part of a monthly seminar series.

One of their stops included a visit to the Step By Step Child and Family Center, where Kanien'kehá:ka language and culture is the foundation for early childhood education. The Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, a thanksgiving address, is incorporated into all of its programming.

Faculty members at Concordia University, including Sara Kennedy, were invited to hear from educators at Step By Step Child and Family Center, as well as the First Nations Regional Adult Education Centre. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"It's very important to us that the children have an opportunity to get that identity and roots because that is what is going to help them," said Natalie Beauvais, the centre's executive director.

Beauvais said knowing that Concordia is taking the step to learn more about the community will help their students in the future.

The series of monthly seminars called Decolonizing and Indigenizing the Academy is a new initiative by the university as it continues its efforts to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.

Advisor hired

"Historically universities have always played a very instrumental role in perpetuating Eurocentric curriculum, in the process denying any of our teachings, our historical and contemporary issues, our Indigenous perspectives and philosophies, and our Indigenous humanities in the university curriculum," said Donna Goodleaf, Indigenous curriculum and pedagogical advisor at the university's Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Goodleaf, Kanien'kehá:ka from Kahnawake, was hired in January for the new position. Her mandate is to develop and implement university-wide initiatives to include Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing in the curriculum and teaching methods.

"It's trying to address these issues and working with faculty to point out what these issues are, how are they perpetuating institutional racism towards Indigenous students and what is it going to take to turn that around," said Goodleaf.

Acknowledging other world views

Goodleaf said workshops like the one held in Kahnawake help provide a historical foundation of knowledge, something she said is limited among many faculty members.

For Kennedy, the experience in Kahnawake means acknowledging not everyone in her class may be from a European-based culture, and might approaching learning and knowledge in different ways.

"I did have one person in one course who identified themselves to me as Indigenous and it was a different environment for him, for sure, to come into our classes," said Kennedy.

"I think coming here and becoming more aware of where people start from is going to help the instructors serve those types of students much more."

About the Author

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.