Implement mandatory Indigenous studies the right way


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the last few months, there has been quite a bit of discussion on the prospect of introducing mandatory Indigenous studies courses into university curriculums in Canada, most recently at SFU and UBC.

The pressure to make this addition comes from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, which calls for Canada to take further action to assist with reconciliation. The University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University have already made an Indigenous Studies course a part of their graduation requirements, and other Canadian universities are expected to follow.

The more educated an individual is on an issue, the more they can do to engage with current events and help push the agenda in the right direction. Aboriginal people in Canada have been systematically discriminated against since our country’s founding (and let’s admit: we still discriminate against them).

We need better education about the dark parts of Canada’s history and a better approach to combat the chronic ignorance around Indigenous issues in this country. It shouldn’t be a controversial issue whether or not to make this requirement happen, but it should certainly be done in the right way.

In my first year of university, I took two elective courses: First Nations Literature and Anthropology of BC First Nations. While I chose the courses out of personal interest and in no way needed for them for my degree, they undoubtedly have influenced the way I engage with the news and cultural events.

While I am likely an exception to take these courses outside of my faculty and requirements for graduation, I do believe there are ways to implement a mandatory credit that will roll smoothly into students’ course plans and benefit them the same way my electives did for me.

To properly implement Indigenous education during post-secondary it is important to make the required courses valuable to each faculty. It is more valuable if the course is directly related to what students are studying in their degrees. Students are more willing to integrate knowledge into their thinking and their lives if it is relevant to what they want to study.

Each faculty has particular WQB courses that involve that faculty’s studies; this means science students will take a writing course on academic science writing and a business student will take an academic business writing course.

Each faculty could have options for mandatory Indigenous Studies courses, like UBC’s course about Aboriginal rights and treaties for their law students. It is easy to see how the same approach could be used for business, criminology, and health science students. Some Canadian universities are even offering courses in First Nations languages.

Other complaints about this kind of course requirement like to label it a cash grab for universities. As a student, I can see where this is coming from, but we already pay $400-plus for our breadth social science electives; there is no reason why an Indigenous Studies elective cannot be combined with one of the pre-existing requirements, killing two birds with one stone and keeping the tuition costs the same.

The point of breadth requirements in a degree is to make students well-rounded and knowledgeable graduates, and hopefully make them overall better citizens. Learning about Canada’s history from another perspective that is more intellectually challenging than grade 11 social studies will help students become more open-minded people.

Our new Prime Minister is looking for ways to advance Canadian reconciliation; I think finding the right way to implement a mandatory Indigenous Studies credit is our moral obligation, and could very well be a step in the right direction.