The Current

Halifax university's decision to have white prof teach residential schools course ignites controversy

A Halifax university stands by their decision to have a non-Indigenous scholar teach a course on residential schools. But critics are outraged that lived experience is not considered necessary to share this traumatic history.

Lack of diversity in academia a key point to the issue, says critic

A group of female students and a nun pose in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in this 1940 archive photo. (Library and Archives Canada/Reuters)

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Critics are calling out a Nova Scotia university this week for their choice to assign a non-Indigenous scholar to teach an upcoming course on residential schools.

Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax held a meeting Wednesday to address concerns by Indigenous people who argued lived experience to understand the era and its impacts is a key component to teach this traumatic history.

The university has decided to keep their commitment to Martha Walls, a historian who also developed the course. They released a statement supporting their choice which read in part:

"Indigenous faculty and staff at the Mount believe that true allies committed to honest reconciliation like Dr. Walls must be engaged in sharing knowledge of First Nations/Canadian history in order to reach all those in education who should be reached with this important information."

To discuss the controversy over whether a non-Indigenous university professor should teach a residential school course, The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti spoke to:

  • Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, a Mi'kmaw woman and Dalhousie University professor of Indigenous Studies.
  • Mark Mercer, s professor of philosophy at St. Mary's University and president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.
  • Rinaldo Walcott, a professor of sociology and head of the women and gender studies department at the University of Toronto. 

Clarification: This story was updated on May 18, 2018 to clarify that Martha Walls was not hired specifically for this position.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Danielle Carr.