Students discuss Indigenous Studies minor

On Nov. 27, students, faculty, and other members of the McGill community shared their opinions and thoughts on the potential North American Indigenous Studies minor program at McGill during a public forum. The forum was a collaborative effort by the Aboriginal Sustainability Project (ASP), the Indigenous Student Alliance, the Aboriginal Law Students’ Association, McGill’s Indigenous Studies Community (KANATA), and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).

At the forum, Brett Lamoureux, a researcher for SSMU, announced that his preliminary research into the logistics and classes of a North American Indigenous Studies minor program at McGill would be finalized in December. Lamoureux said that he would post a report of his findings online by January 2013.

Lamoureux has already compiled a comprehensive list of pre-existing courses under several departments that could fit into the minor program. These include courses in anthropology, biology, Canadian studies, education, English, environmental science, history, geography, law, political science, social work, and sociology. His research will be used to create a proposal for the program, which will be submitted to the Faculty of Arts curriculum committee.

Lamoureux is a U3 Education student who identifies as a Métis person—a term for someone of mixed First Nations and Euro-American ancestry.

“As a Métis person, I have been involved with Métis and other First Nations organizations for many years,” Lamoureux said. “All First Nations people, I think, have something to offer. They deal with modernity in a unique way, and it’s important to incorporate that into any academic program.”

The forum shed light on the amount of work left to be done before the university can officially create an Indigenous Studies minor program. Allan Vicaire, coordinator of the ASP, described the next steps involved in keeping the program’s development moving ahead.

“The next step forward is a foundational course,” Vicaire said. “We need to take into account opinions from the Quebec native community and find out how McGill can help them and learn from them.”

Vicaire said the Indigenous Studies foundational courses—introductory courses that will discuss key themes in a program and teach basic research methods—still require more discussion and feedback.

Lamoureux also emphasized the importance of receiving input from the community.

“I think more consultation should be done with the community around here to see what they want,” Lamoureux said. “Their perspective and needs are essential. More consultation has to happen.”

In June 2011 the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) agreed to house a North American Indigenous Studies minor program at McGill. This means that the MISC would manage the program and offer services, documentations, and certificates to students who wish to pursue a minor in Indigenous Studies.

MISC currently operates the Canadian Studies courses, as well as the major, minor, honours, and joint-honours programs. MISC Director William Straw has been supportive of the project throughout the preliminary process. At the forum, he detailed some additional challenges still facing the creation of such a program.

“We have to face the realities that the university faces,” Straw said. “We need to find money to hire people to teach, and [we need to] talk to all the departments to make sure they can help make this happen.”

The forum itself consisted of smaller workshops where participants could discuss topics such as who should teach in the minor program and what the specific name of the program should be. During the workshops, students expressed how they were feeling about the progress of the program.

“I think [the] McGill community has the mindset that Indigenous Studies is not worth anything,” Arts Senator Jimmy Gutman said. “The fact that students have to push [for] this is somewhat ridiculous. I think Indigenous people have a lot to offer, and I hope that this program will help change our attitudes towards Indigenous people.”

Sarah Cartier, U1 arts, said she hopes to see a program take shape soon.

“I really enjoyed the conference and am glad the organizers are putting so much effort into getting student feedback,” Cartier said. “I think it’s going to turn out really well, and I look forward to seeing [an Indigenous Studies] minor program [at] McGill soon.”

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