First Nations studies granted departmental status

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By Graham Cook
Upgrade means greater financial autonomy and increased enrolment for First Nations studies

Following a recent SFU senate decision, the First Nations studies program has been given department status effective April 1, 2012, to be placed within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

According to its website, the department “offers courses in the study of traditional and contemporary issues involving the aboriginal peoples of North America and Canada in particular,” and is designed for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal students.

The new department offers a major, minor, and joint major with archaeology and linguistics, as well as certificates in First Nations studies research, First Nations language proficiency, and cultural resource management. These programs use over 20 courses that are offered in addition to optional co-operative education.

The director of First Nations studies, associate professor Eldon Yellowhorn, spoke with The Peak about the recognition. He explained that the change from a program to a department meant a higher amount of recognition within the faculty, as the former is usually administrated through the office of the dean of arts and was hosted by the department of archaeology while the latter is more autonomous. As an example, he pointed out that they now direct their own operating budget.

Yellowhorn also outlined the “long, deliberate movement” that led to the achievement of departmental status. They began by offering classes in First Nations studies and then progressed to offering a minor, followed by the joint majors, and finally in 2009 began offering a major. In addition, many of their courses now come with a breadth distinction, which, according to Yellowhorn, has led to increased enrolment.

Along with Eldon Yellowhorn, there are four other core faculty members assisting with the administration of the new department. These four include associate professors Marianne Ignace, Annie Ross, Deanna Reder, and Rudy Reimer/Yumks. They also have ties to faculty in other departments such as sociology/anthropology, history, linguistics, mathematics, and resource and environmental management.

Yellowhorn also hinted that First Nation studies may create a graduate program in the near future. Currently their faculty engages in research but must ‘borrow’ graduate students from other areas. He also expressed hopes that they can continue to heighten the profile of their department within the faculty of arts and social sciences. This, he said, will allow them to further their vision for what the department could be.