An innovative team of academics in the soon-to-be officially renamed School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University are preparing for the launch of a new program in fall 2017 – the Bachelor of Arts (combined honours) program in Indigenous Studies.
It will offer Indigenous and non-Indigenous students the opportunity to study the historical and contemporary experiences of Indigenous people, both in North America and internationally. Modelled on the Algonquin “Mamiwininmowin” concept of “aditawazi nisoditadiwin” –walking in two worlds – the program will combine academic instruction with traditional Indigenous teaching practices.
According to Prof. Jennifer Adese, co-ordinator of the program, the significance of this new combined honours degree and student participation in Indigenous Studies forms an essential part of the academic offerings at Carleton.
“Our society has made a point of not being educated about Indigenous history and experience. Indigenous people have been here since time immemorial,” said Adese. “It’s 2016. You don’t have the option to live in a place and not know its history.”
The combined honours program will endeavour to improve this knowledge disconnect by providing a more complete degree option for students in the field of Indigenous Studies.
The program will be focused on four themes – Indigenous peoplehood studies, Indigenous-settler relations, Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous recovery, revitalization and reclamation. The program will include a fourth-year capstone course entitled “Indigeneity and the City” which will be focused on the experiences of urban Indigenous people. This four-pronged approach of structuring the program is a deliberate choice on behalf of the academic organizers.
“The notion of four directions is a common theme in many Indigenous cultures,” said Adese. “That there are four thematic areas of the program, in some ways, echoes this.”
Adese acknowledges that the scope of the body of work for a program focused on the knowledge and experiences of Indigenous people will be massive.
“We’re making a program for a field that could be its own institution. We are not going to get close to a fragment of Indigenous knowledge and experience – maybe a sliver,” she said.
The external review process to establish the new program was conducted in a way that respected the communities and traditions it seeks to present.
“Any new program has to go through an external review to get approval,” said Prof. Peter Hodgins, director of the school of Canadian and Indigenous Studies. “Usually it is done with only academics as external reviewers, but this review was completed with the participation of both academics and Elders.”
For Adese, this approach demonstrates how universities can become more inclusive and indigenize while operating in an ethical and respectful way.
“Processes need to be developed in a way that ensures policies include the perspectives and contributions of Indigenous people,” said Adese. “This process will serve as a model of how to do that ethically and respectfully.”
The faculty involved in teaching the Indigenous Studies courses received high praise from Hodgins.
“The commitment of the faculty to this area of study is serious, but also joyful,” he said. “The educators will be dealing with substantive, hard stuff. But they are people who are deeply impactful, are funny but also serious about their fields of study and therefore can engage the students successfully. They are committed, talented teachers.”
When it comes to building the program, Hodgin’s notes Carleton’s administration has been continuously supportive of establishing the new degree.
“The university has been nothing but encouraging,” said Hodgins. “Clearly, Carleton is committed to the Indigenous inclusion objectives it has set for itself.”
For Hodgins, this combined honours degree is one among many positive steps forward.
“The future is very bright for Indigenous Studies at Carleton.”