By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY – Lakehead University is moving ahead with its Indigenous Knowledge in the Curriculum initiative that provides undergraduates with at least one course incorporating indigenous content by 2017.
“If you’re in engineering, we’re not asking engineers to teach about the fur trade,” says Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead University’s vice provost (Aboriginal Initiatives) and a Georgina Island citizen. “We’re not asking engineers necessarily to teach about treaties unless the place where they are going to put some infrastructure in is on treaty land. And then they should know something about that treaty and the implications of that and the duty to consult and accommodate.”
Wesley-Esquimaux says the initiative will help “normalize a new viewpoint of who indigenous peoples are.”
“Membertou would be a good example of that,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “They now bring in $61 million of own-source revenue. They have their own Tim Hortons and they are the biggest employer in New Brunswick of everybody, not just native people. Is that not something that somebody should learn.”
The Indigenous Knowledge in the Curriculum initiative calls for students to study at least 18 hours of indigenous knowledge or Aboriginal content during their program. Eighteen hours is equivalent to half a credit at Lakehead University.
“We are prepared to help the instructors teach you and give them a data base that they can draw from,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “And they can choose what kind of things they want you to learn.”
Lakehead University is the first university in Canada to make the commitment that all of its undergraduates will study indigenous knowledge or Aboriginal content during their program. Faculty and staff will also participate in indigenous knowledge seminars under the initiative.
“It’s not going to cost any extra money,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “It will be embedded in the program you are already entering into. There will be no extra course loads — you have to take four or five electives, so one of those electives may well be a course. We are also thinking about doing something online that you could take in the evening or on the weekend or whenever you feel you have the time.”
Wesley-Esquimaux says the initiative will not affect any students currently enrolled at Lakehead University; it will only affect students enrolling in 2016 and afterwards.
The initiative was developed by Lakehead University’s Ogimaawin-Aboriginal Governance Council in the last round of strategic planning for the university.
“There was discussion and eventual commitments to supporting indigenous learners, improving community engagement with indigenous communities and the academic plan was developed subsequently,” says Peggy Smith, an associate professor at Lakehead University and member of the Ogimaawin-Aboriginal Governance Council. “It was in the academic plan that there was a commitment made to make indigenous content a requirement for students graduating from Lakehead University.”
Smith says the Aboriginal Initiatives unit is helping with the implementation of the initiative and supporting faculty on how they will meet the requirements.
“It is an institutional commitment,” Smith says. “It was a motion passed by the senate in May 2014 that approved the commitment.”
Smith says many of her students have not been receiving an education about Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples.
“Students are coming into my (Aboriginal Peoples and Natural Resources) course in the fourth year of university and most of them know nothing,” Smith says. “They didn’t learn it in primary school, they didn’t learn it in high school, and here they are coming and graduating in a field where of course Aboriginal and treaty rights is central to what is going on in natural resource management.”