Two Canadian universities make indigenous studies a requirement

Starting next fall, every undergraduate student at the University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., will be required to take a course in indigenous studies.

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It’s a plan that university administrators hope will allow every student to learn the basics of the traditions, history, and modern-day issues of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

Wab Kinew, the associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at University of Winnipeg, says it was students who initiated the new requirement. There had been a few incidents of racism on campus and the student association met with the aboriginal student council to brainstorm solutions.

“And what they came up with was that education could play a role in fighting racism – education toward combating ignorance,” Kinew told CTV’s Canada AM from Winnipeg Thursday.

There’s been a lot of positive reaction to the announced change, he said, especially since it comes so soon after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

“A lot of people are recognizing that learning about indigenous people is crucial to be an active and engaged citizen in our country,” he said.

There has also been a certain amount of “push-back,” Kinew conceded, but he said that has to do with some students mistakenly believing that the new rules will require all students to take the same course. That’s not how it will work, he said.

“Rather, we’re saying there’s a list of dozens of courses across many different departments,” and students can choose one that fits with their degree program or that just piques their curiosity.

Since the University of Manitoba announced the new requirement, administrators at other universities have been contacting University of Manitoba leaders to find out how they can implement a similar mandate.

Kinew says he hopes the idea will spread even further, so that all teachers, lawyers, doctors and public sector workers are encouraged to also learn the basics of indigenous history and contemporary issues.

“Everybody working in this country should have at least a basic understanding of these issues so that they can engage with them in an informed and meaningful way,” he said.



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