ActiveHistory.ca repost – Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough

ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on January 13, 2016 during the Indigenous Histories theme week edited by Crystal Fraser.

by Adam Gaudry

Over the past year, the University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University have mandated that incoming undergraduate students complete an Indigenous degree requirement before graduating. This requirement takes the form of an Indigenous content class chosen from a number of options relevant to the student’s degree program. Given the popular response, many other universities are following suit, a byproduct of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “Calls to Action” and an arms race to be at the forefront of progressive curricular reform.

Generally speaking, this is a good thing, and I believe that this is an effective strategy, especially at universities like these with substantial capacity to provide this curriculum. It is not my intent to critique those universities who have taken the lead on this, but I think that universities without this experience must move ahead cautiously. In the rush to get students learning about Indigenous-Canada relations, little friendly criticism has challenged this popular desire for curricular change. A sobering analysis by Daniel Heath Justice, however, shows just how difficult this project really is, and how poor implementation of a requirement could actually work against this goal. The stakes are high, much higher than benefiting good public relations in mandating an “Indigenization” program. In implementing an Indigenous content requirement universities need to think long and hard about how to do this effectively.

Indigenous content requirements aren’t actually new: they’ve been around for a while, in some cases, decades. Older content requirements were usually program-specific or a prerequisite for entry into a professional degree. At the University of Saskatchewan, where I work in the Department of Indigenous Studies, Education, Nursing, Aboriginal Public Administration, and Social Work[1] students are required to take two Indigenous Studies courses to complete their degrees (all programs which train front-line workers in a province with a large Indigenous population). What these new proposals do, then, is expand the content requirement to a wider range of students—particularly into the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences—where the justification for its implementation is more intellectual (this is something you should know) rather rationalized as job training (this is something you’ll need to know to practice your profession effectively).

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