Why Indigenous Studies Classes Are Even More Important Today

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Nearly four years ago, I wrote an article for TalentEgg about how valuable it was for Gen Y students to take Indigenous Studies classes.

With all that is being publicized in the media in respect to Idle No More, I felt that it was time to get an updated perspective on the importance of enrolling in Indigenous Studies classes.

“Indigenous Studies courses provide a space for Aboriginal scholars and other intellectuals to reflect on the past, both our own traditions and the history of colonization, to find ways to forge a stronger future for our nations.” —Mallory Whiteduck, Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officer, Carleton University

I asked Mallory Whiteduck—whom I met while I was studying at Carleton University—for her perspective.

Originally from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Whiteduck completed her BA in Communications at the University of Ottawa, and then went on to do her MA in Canadian Studies at Carleton University.

For two years she worked as a researcher at the Native Women’s Association of Canada, in their Sisters in Spirit initiative. Whiteduck has been working with Carleton University’s Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE) since 2010.

What is your role as an Aboriginal Cultural Liaison Officer?

Mallory: In the very broadest sense, my role here is to help to “Indigenize” the university. Our office has helped to create systemic change at the university, for example by contributing to Carleton’s Aboriginal Coordinated Strategy, which was approved by the University Senate.

Another big part of my job is working with youth on the ground. I travel across Ontario and parts of Quebec, visiting Aboriginal youth on and off-territory, and in communities and urban areas, to promote post-secondary education and opportunities for Aboriginal students at Carleton.

CACE is also responsible for variety of things like: organizing lectures, workshops, film screenings, conferences; conducting workshops and training sessions; Aboriginal student orientation; maintaining the Aboriginal Lounge, and soon the Aboriginal Centre; the Visiting Elders program; and more.

Why is it important for First Nation, Métis and Inuit students to take classes in Aboriginal Studies?

Mallory: It is important that both First Nations, Metis and Inuit and Canadian and other non-Aboriginal students take courses in Indigenous Studies. Much of the land that makes up what we now call Canada is treaty territory. Generally, this means that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples entered into various types of agreements that formed the land we now know as Canada. Knowing about this history, and the ways in which the treaty relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Canadians has been both maintained and ignored, is a responsibility for all Canadians.

Additionally, it is important for Aboriginal students specifically to take courses in Indigenous Studies because it helps us to grow our nationhood. Indigenous Studies courses provide a space for Aboriginal scholars and other intellectuals to reflect on the past, both our own traditions and the history of colonization, to find ways to forge a stronger future for our nations.

What kinds of skills can be gained in Aboriginal Studies programs that cannot be gained in other academic disciplines?

Mallory: Learning how to think critically is an important skill that is taught in Indigenous Studies programs. Canada has a strong national pride, and it is often those stories that celebrate Canada’s accomplishments that are told to students in elementary and secondary schools. When Aboriginal history is added to the Canadian narrative—which sometimes only happens for students when they reach college or university, or never—it becomes a richer story and it becomes a story that is complicated, “negative” and not necessarily one that Canada should be proud of as a nation.

We can’t eliminate Canada’s history of colonization from our identity simply because it’s not a pretty story; to do that would be denying Canadian children the opportunity to truly understand their Anishinaabe, Inuit, Onkwehonwe, Métis  and other Indigenous friends and neighbours. Being able to think critically about Canada and its relationship with Aboriginal peoples will provide Indigenous Studies graduates with a deeper understanding of where they are from.

What are possible jobs students with degrees in Aboriginal Studies can attain after graduation?

Mallory: With the critical thinking skills and writing skills that Indigenous Studies programs foster, graduates should be able to expect to receive jobs in areas similar to others who hold a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Do you see Aboriginal Studies courses becoming more important in university and college classrooms as the Indigenous population continues to increase?

Mallory: Absolutely. The education system in Canada hasn’t afforded us an opportunity to get to know one another as Indigenous peoples and Canadians. Aboriginal history and stories should be taught at an early level, and I would love to see the field of Indigenous Studies become more focused so that it can lend to disciplines such as Indigenous Governance, Indigenous Literature, Indigenous Social Work, and more.

Have you ever taken Indigenous Studies courses? What did you gain from the experience? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Aboriginal Careers Week featuring PwC and BHP Billiton

Photo credit: US Mission Canada

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