On Apr. 12, KANATA announced that an indigenous studies minor will be officially created within the Faculty of Arts. KANATA is an undergraduate journal that publishes work by indigenous students at McGill.
The idea to develop an indigenous studies program was presented two years ago at a KANATA peer-to-peer conference. In May 2012, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hired a researcher, Brett Lamoureux, to study similar programs at other universities.
Allan Vicaire, Aboriginal Sustainability Projects coordinator at the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office, then created a steering committee which was tasked with organizing a forum where students, faculty, and staff— as well as members of several nearby indigenous communities — would contribute their ideas for an indigenous studies program and help create a clear vision for the program.
The committee was a collaboration of several indigenous student groups across campus, and met every week to develop the forum. Tiffany Harrington, U2 anthropology and vice president of McGill’s Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA), was a member of the steering committee.
“The ISA wanted to make sure that students were a part of the process and that their voices were being heard,” Harrington said. “We always had ISA members on the council boards.”
The forum, held on Nov. 27, 2012, was an interactive event where participants were invited to contribute their thoughts on how to integrate different themes within an indigenous studies minor program structure. The themes discussed included educators, learning types, space, and course content.
Following the forum, the steering committee produced a report—titled the McGill Community Vision for an Indigenous Studies Program: Forum Report—which summarized the findings of the forum.
Vicaire has been actively involved in the progression of the indigenous studies program project.
“This is the first time we knew what [the committee’s report] would look like,” Vicaire explained. “It’s great for students to have a letter and to sign it and support it, but the provost or a member of faculty can say, ‘Oh we know you want it but what would it look like, what do you want to offer?’ The forum provided those answers, saying this is the type of program it should look like.”
McGill is one of the only major Canadian universities without an indigenous studies program. There had been attempts to create one in the past, but with little success.
“McGill likes to compare itself to the U15 [a group of 15 leading research-intensive universities in Canada],” Vicaire said. “Out of the U15, 11 or 12 have a minor in indigenous studies. In this way, we are lagging. We are still pushing forward in terms of services, such as the First Nations house.”
“There are still pockets of indigenous [studies] courses, such as in [the Faculty of Education],” he continued. “[However], we need something to link them all together.”
Several members of the McGill community have voiced the reasons why they believe it is important for the university to have an indigenous studies minor. According to Nicholas Magnien, a fifth-year student in geography and history, it is important for students to know the indigenous history of the country in which they are living.
“We know McGill as an international university. I find it very sad, personally, that students can attend school here, take courses here, and can spend four years here and not learn anything about indigenous people,” Magnien explained.
According to Vicaire, Will Straw, director of the Institute of the Study of Canada at McGill, has shown interest in the indigenous studies program, and has said that he would like to house such a minor within the Canadian studies department.
The creation of an indigenous studies program would create many employment opportunities for students who wish to work in Canada, says Vicaire.
“Already we have a whole list of graduate and PhD students studying a range of issues…. We need to have an undergraduate program to help push this forward,” he said. “It can influence people or provide support for [those] who are in other majors, such as those wanting to work in indigenous communities.”
To date, it has not been announced when the indigenous studies program will be launched, however, it could potentially be formed within the next year, according to Vicaire.