Shedding light on the indigenous curriculum controversy

What it really means to incorporate indigenous knowledge in the curriculum

By Leah Ching

The Argus

Cynthia Weley-Esquimaux. courtesy of lakeheadu.ca

Since the announcement of Lakehead’s initiative regarding indigenous knowledge in the curriculum, the lack of public information made available to students has been the cause of a great deal of controversy and criticism.

Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux spearheaded a special presentation on Tuesday and sought to shed more light on the topic. Generally aimed at faculty, the event proved to be incredibly valuable to attend for students with questions regarding the implementation of Lakehead’s plan.

Esquimaux’s presentation outlined the ways in which professors and members of faculties could go about ‘decolonizing’ or ‘indiginizing’ their learning. Realizing that there would be a learning curve, she called for flexibility in teaching and a mutual conversation between faculty and students. She also highlighted that Lakehead is not the only university to implement a program like this, and the idea is nothing new or exclusionary toward students.

She highlighted the idea that this was a university-wide decision that has gone through the proper channels of communication and has gone through debate and dialogue at the Senate before implementation.

Also important to note is that each faculty will have power in orienting their curriculum and figuring out how this “half credit equivalent” will be fulfilled. For some students, this may mean an elective, but for others the eighteen hours of learning may be worked into courses they are already taking. Esquimaux wanted attendees to grasp the idea that this decision is not one that has been ‘imposed’ on the university in any way.

“We’re all treaty people,” she said to attendees. Speaking to the fact that Canada is a product of settler colonialism, she reminded us that university education is often from a fully western perspective. “We have to realize that this conversation is 600 years overdue. We have to look at who’s writing the story to fully be able to understand the conversation that’s being had.”

For Esquimaux as well as others in support of this initiative, it comes down to the idea that there are stories to tell that have been suppressed. Through decolonization efforts like this one, the aim is to create intentional bridges between cultures and understand the non-western perspective.

A widespread student opinion has been the belief that Indigenous Learning doesn’t pertain to their degree in any way. “There was some resistance from engineers,” said Esquimaux. She followed up by posing the question, “Whose doors are you going to be knocking on in northern communities?”

An anonymous female Aboriginal student said, “It’s saddening to see the racist comments popping up on pages like Lakehead Confessions. Our student union strives to create an accepting university culture, but pages condoning the posting of slander without factual information about the initiative doesn’t help much.”

Whether students like it or not, the initiative continues to cause heated debate and uncover deep-seated racial issues within the university and the larger city.

Finally, quoting a speech by Chief Dan George, Esquimaux called for social integration above all: “Unless there is integration in hearts and minds, you only have a physical presence and the walls are as high as the mountain tops.”

 

 

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