Mandatory Indigenous courses for BU


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Brandon University is the latest Canadian post-secondary institution to embed mandatory Indigenous courses into its curriculum, with this requirement expected to be in place for the upcoming fall semester.

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Brandon University is the latest Canadian post-secondary institution to embed mandatory Indigenous courses into its curriculum, with this requirement expected to be in place for the upcoming fall semester.

Starting in September, all BU undergraduate students entering their first year will be required to complete a minimum of three credit hours of Indigenous content before receiving their degree.

They will have the option of choosing between five different courses in health, education, music or Native Studies (which is offering two introductory classes).

Chris Lagimodiere, Brandon University’s Indigenous adviser to the president, addresses the school’s Board of Governors during a Saturday morning meeting on campus. During the meeting, Lagimodiere brought the board up to speed on the activities of the Indigenous Education Senate Sub-Committee, including its plans to embed mandatory Indigenous courses into the curriculum this coming fall. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

Chris Lagimodiere, BU’s Indigenous adviser to the president, outlined the lengthy development of this new compulsory program at the school’s latest Board of Governors meeting, saying that it was important to provide students with multiple courses to choose from right away instead of presenting a single path forward.

“The intention is that students have the opportunity to select courses that are important to them, that are meaningful to their education and that they’re interested in,” he said on Saturday.

“And we’re in the process of creating the criteria to vet more options for students.”

Lagimodiere mentioned that these compulsory courses were developed through BU’s Indigenous Education Senate Sub-Committee (IESSC), which officially formed in 2016 to advance the university’s commitment to reconciliation and bring more Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum.

IESSC members identified mandatory Indigenous courses as one of several tangible methods of achieving this goal, especially with institutions like the University of Winnipeg, the University of Regina and Lakehead University having already established similar requirements around the same time.

These institutional changes all emerged following the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in 2015, which presented 94 calls to action to redress the legacy of Canadian residential schools, including a section about education reform.

Instead of bringing about this change through legislation, like the reports suggest, IESSC members began developing their own compulsory Indigenous courses by closely working with other post-secondary schools that had already put these offerings in place.

While the consultation process hit a major speed bump due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lagimodiere is excited that they are finally getting the chance to roll out these courses this fall and showcase how Indigenous knowledge can already be applied to many different academic disciplines.

“We have Indigenous science. We have Indigenous mathematics. We have Indigenous health practices,” he said. “So … we didn’t want to say that it’s limited to one [course] because we know Indigenous knowledge is already in all of our content, in all of our subjects.”

With these new requirements in place, BU is following in the footsteps of other Canadian post-secondary institutions that have made Indigenous classes a necessity within the last couple years, including the University of Prince Edward Island and the University of Manitoba.

Outside of the post-secondary sphere, compulsory Indigenous content is also becoming more and more prevalent in high schools.

Earlier this year, trustees representing the Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in Canada, voted in favour of replacing its current mandatory Grade 11 English course with one titled “Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Métis and Inuit Voices.”

Dancers and other dignitaries file into the Healthy Living Centre to take part in an All Nations Powwow at Brandon University in May 2016. The university’s Indigenous Education Senate Sub-Committee is attempting to further emphasize First Nations history and culture on campus through a variety of projects, including the development of mandatory Indigenous courses. (File)

This decision follows recent moves by several other school boards in Ontario, including those in the York and Durham regions, to make this course the compulsory Grade 11 English credit.

On the other side of the country, the British Columbia government recently announced that, starting this fall, all secondary students in the province must successfully complete at least four credits in Indigenous-focused coursework in order to graduate.

Because of this changing landscape, BU president David Docherty doesn’t anticipate any major pushback from the local student body over this shift in academic requirements, although there may be some logistical wrinkles that still need to be ironed out.

“From the heart, people are already there,” Docherty said following the public section of Saturday’s Board of Governors meeting. “It’s just about how do we fit it into our curriculum.”

Moving forward, the IESSC is still hard at work expanding these required Indigenous classes to ensure there are more options in the future that overlap with all of BU’s faculties.

But for right now, Lagimodiere is just happy that these compulsory courses are in place for the upcoming academic year, especially since an increased interest in Indigenous history and culture can be found at every level of the campus community.

“I think generally what I’ve noticed within our institution, within our student body and especially within our faculty and staff and leadership, is that people are really open to reconciliation and wanting to know how we can do better,” he said.


» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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