The Carillon

Letter to the editor – Jan. 26, 2012

There is a currently a petition circulating at the University of Regina to require Indigenous Studies 100 as a mandatory class in all undergraduate degree programs.

In response to this petition, there seems to be some significant misunderstandings about how this proposal would function. 

First off, no student would be forced to take any additional classes beyond the 40 (or in the case of Engineering 46) classes they are currently mandated to take. Practically, this would function by replacing one elective within a student’s program. Further, I personally took a double major in the Faculty of Arts and was still able to take several electives throughout my time at the University of Regina.

Second, some claim this a cash grab by the university. The university isn’t the one proposing the idea and no one is sure what they will do in response to the petition. So what these people are really claiming is that these students are trying to create a cash grab for the university. This would not add any additional costs to a U of R degree. It would simply take away one elective students had and replace it with a core-requirement class.

Third, a lot of people say this would not help them in their future careers. I would like to posit the argument that it would help students in any of program, especially if they are planning on staying in Saskatchewan for their career. In a province with the demographics of Saskatchewan, it will be important for businesspeople, engineers, social workers and teachers to understand Canada’s colonial legacy if we are ever going to decolonize our university, our province, and our country.

Fourth, take a look where this petition is coming from. It’s being proposed by student members of the Indigenous Students’ Association. If you want to know why it’s important to them that an Indigenous Studies class be made mandatory, take the time to ask them. I am sure they can give you countless examples of how they have experienced the effects of structural racism within Saskatchewan and on the University of Regina campus. Having this class will not end that structural racism, but it will begin the process of weakening those structures by including differing narratives within our university community.

Very few non-Aboriginal students at the University of Regina have a solid understanding of the colonial history of our province and our country. This class would be more than a much-needed history lesson, it would also allow students to “thread the needle,” so to speak, and see the effect that history is having on our province and our country today. It will give them marketable skills in any profession they choose to pursue, and most of all it will be a small step in the right direction towards decolonizing our school, our city, our province, and our country.

Please take the time to talk to one of the students collecting signatures and make an effort to sign this petition.

Mike Burton
Contributor

EDIT (13:22 16/02/2012): This article was originally credited to Mike Staines, URSU general manager. The Carillon regrets the misattribution.

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  • george

    How about we make everyone take a Canadian history class instead? You know, because then we could learn about how our ancestors were dicks to NOT ONLY First Nations people, but also French settlers, asian railroad workers, Jewish refugees during WW2, Japanese-Canadians during WW2, etc. You want equality, right? It's not fair to single out one group for a benefit, just like it's not fair to single out one group for punishment.
    Furthermore, this petition assumes that no-one in the u of r already has any background in Canadian/North American history, which is… ridiculous, to say the least. Some of us have already learned about several events tied to Aboriginal people over the course of our elementary, junior, and high school careers. Paying 500 bucks for this class will not go over well with people who:
    want to graduate on time (ie. they have already taken all of their humanities electives), are strapped for cash, already research this topic in their free time, and/or have non-Aboriginal ancestors who were treated poorly by the Canadian/British/French governments.
    ps i'm metis, if that matters (fyi: it doesn't. to believe it does is to keep racism alive)

  • Mike Burton

    First off, this wouldn't change anyone currently in University program.  Changes to the required courses never do.  So it wouldn't cost you an additional $500 it would just be one of the courses that all students, in the future, had to take.  
    The problem with "Canadian history" classes from my perspective is that erase Settler — Indigenous relations.  Go back and read your Social Studies texts, or look at the course offerings in History.  The academy itself is white washed by "official" versions of history that serve no other purpose but to purport myths about brave settlers who tamed the uninhabited land of Canada. As John Raulston Saul put it, "the simple history of Canada is that we wanted the land, it belonged to someone else, and so we took it."

    Indigenous studies are not simply a history course taught from a different perspective.  They incorporate discussions about modern issues as well as infusing teaching and learning with Indigenous perspectives. 
    And in fact the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and United Nations Charter of Human Rights both state that it is "fair" to single a group that has been previously disadvantaged out for a benefit.  I personally think the equality you speak about is mythical at best.  What we should start with is some truth about how we got to where we are today.  If we have that truth we might eventually get to a place of reconciliation. 

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