The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Native studies should be a requirement for ESB

By in Opinions

J.D. BELL

Aboriginal recruitment, retention and awareness are goals across our entire campus and within every faculty. However, I believe native studies classes need to be made a requirement within my faculty: Edwards School of Business.

I am a new student to ESB, having recently transferred from the University of Regina. From the moment I arrived at our university I have been encouraged by the Aboriginal initiatives our university is pursuing — so let’s keep the momentum going.

In Edwards, students learn about the demographic shift that will take place before 2050, when the Aboriginal population is projected to become the majority in our province.

We are taught that Aboriginal Peoples will become major economic players provincially and nationally.

The importance of this shift will have on our business community is stressed to our first year and transfer commerce students. Our faculty also stresses the need for the inclusion of Aboriginal Peoples in the business community.

Edwards graduates are being trained to become business leaders and with each year that passes our province is expected to see our Aboriginal population grow in absolute and relative size.

With less than four per cent of Edwards students self-declaring as Aboriginal, I’ve realized the need for the faculty to shift its approach to Aboriginal awareness.

Currently, first year and transfer students are  required to take COMM 119 — which touches on Aboriginal issues — coupled with the occasional Aboriginal guest speaker that holds a statistically insignificant amount of weight or importance in a commerce degree.

There is a great disparity that exists between two issues that should be in perfect alignment: the expressed importance of Aboriginal awareness by Edwards’ educators and the academic importance placed on Aboriginal education.

While faculty, staff and administrator’s words express a great deal of importance towards Aboriginal topics, these issues have virtually zero weight in a commerce degree. Thus, it’s easy to understand why Aboriginal commerce students perceive these words as mere lip service.

The ineffective model used to increase our student body’s knowledge of issues faced by Aboriginals is failing to achieve any real awareness.

Working as our Aboriginal Students’ Centre’s Leadership and Career-Building Ambassador, being an executive member of the Aboriginal Business Students’ Society and my experience being part of an Aboriginal Student Leadership Group has provided me a vast number of unique opportunities to meeting hundreds of students across our campus. In doing so, I’ve gathered input from a diverse pool of students who are studying everything from agriculture to engineering and to discuss policy initiatives with some of our university’s decision-makers.

From these conversations as well as my experiences — recent and not-so-recent — one idea stands out from the rest: native studies needs to be a requirement for all commerce degrees within the Edwards School of Business.

Our university’s College of Education students are required to take six credit hours of native studies classes, which is understandable since these students will soon be responsible for educating Aboriginal children.

Similarly, our future business leaders are going to be managing an increasing number of Aboriginal workers. Yet our commerce students receive less than five hours of dedicated and relevant education regarding Canada’s history with Aboriginal Peoples and how it affects Aboriginals today. That is less than 0.5 per cent of the total class hours within the overall frame of commerce degrees.

The relevance and effectiveness of Edwards’ current model to build Aboriginal knowledge and awareness in our faculty is questionable at best.

With Aboriginal students in Edwards becoming increasingly aware of this educational deficit, other disparities within our faculty become increasingly apparent.

Aboriginal business students who believe our faculty actually values “respect for racial and cultural differences,” as noted on the ESB website, are now questioning our faculty’s once beautiful, inspiring and eloquent mission statement: “The Edwards School of Business develops business professionals to build nations.”

If Edwards develops business professionals to build nations without bridging the knowledge deficit our commerce students all possess, how can we reasonably expect our business leaders in-training to be able to help rebuild our country’s First Nations relations?

Where do our First Nations People fit into the college’s mission? How can we reasonably expect our future business leaders to truly understand our Aboriginal communities?

We hear our instructors constantly stressing the importance of Aboriginal enrollment in commerce, participation and representation in the workforce and we learn of statistics related to these issues. Aboriginal business students, as well as the Aboriginal Business Students’ Society, recognize the need for our faculty to mandate six credit hours of Native Studies for all commerce degrees.

Edwards School of Business needs to be doing more to educate graduates and our future business leaders on Aboriginal culture and history.

The current strategy to raise awareness of Aboriginal issues with our commerce students is ineffective and this outdated model needs to be replaced with quantitative education

There is an understanding from faculty that our Aboriginal population will play an important role in our economy and business community. However, this task may be impossible without our future business leaders having a minimum six credit hours — or more — of native studies education at our post-secondary level.

Without our future leaders expanding their understanding of Aboriginal history, how can we reasonably expect our future business community to understand Aboriginals as a people?

I emplore Edwards School of Business to mandate a minimum standard of native studies classes to ensure our graduates are properly prepared for the challenges they will face in their careers.

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