Indigenous studies should be integrated into SFU’s degree requirements

SFU isn’t producing “well-rounded” students without Indigenous course requirements

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Indigenous studies should be part of SFU’s breadth requirements. PHOTO: Manmeet Sagri / The Peak

By: Hannah Kazemi, Staff Writer

SFU claims to offer a “well-rounded student experience,” but this can’t be true if students lack a genuine understanding of the trauma and oppression Indigenous peoples faced throughout Canadian history. There was a heavy focus on Indigenous studies at my high school, but when I started university that emphasis faded. This is especially concerning for individuals continuing their education with post-graduate studies or pursuing a career in fields that involve the public sphere. 

With the faculty of arts and social sciences (FASS) being SFU’s largest faculty, there are undoubtedly thousands of hopeful lawyers, teachers, and policy makers among us. These graduates will inevitably end up interacting with Indigenous people and others who experience marginalization in their fields of work. This is not exclusive to these career paths, though. Indigenous leaders have expressed support for Indigenous studies in BC’s school curriculum, because increasing our awareness of culture and identity fosters sensitivity for the people we interact with. It opens up opportunities for learning and productive dialogue.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published a list of 94 calls to action to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” Number 62 on their list discusses changes to education, which mentions curriculum changes for the K–12 system. These changes proposed increasing funding to integrate teachings about Indigenous history and cultures into classrooms. There’s a need for an increased focus on Indigenous education at the post-secondary level as well.

Earlier this year, British Columbia followed up on this change to the K–12 curriculum, making Indigenous studies a mandatory graduation requirement for students starting in the 2023/24 academic year. We haven’t seen this at BC universities yet, though. The University of Winnipeg made it mandatory for all students to take at least one three-credit course in Indigenous studies in 2016. Lakehead University in Ontario did the same, and the University of Regina also made one Indigenous-focused course a requirement for students in the faculty of arts. It’s time for SFU to be next.

Understanding Indigenous culture isn’t just about learning Canada’s colonial history. Canadian media often portrays Indigenous people poorly, and doesn’t acknowledge their  strong communities and rich cultures. History courses which focus solely on colonial events rarely expand our understanding of Indigenous identity. Instead, these courses must center Indigenous culture and agency through storytelling and exploration of Indigenous languages. 

Indigenous studies shouldn’t be mandated through a single required course. Instead, it should be part of SFU’s breadth requirements, giving students the option to choose a directed course that interests them. SFU currently requires six units each of breadth-humanities, breadth-science, breadth-social sciences, and additional courses outside each student’s major. These additional six units outside one’s program are where the Indigenous studies requirement could come in: students should be required to take at least one course with an Indigenous focus. The knowledge that can be gained by taking even one Indigenous studies or Indigenous-focused course is so important to developing more understanding of the world we live in and how we can make it better.