Indigenous studies should be a required course

By in Opinions

As indigenization goals at the University of Saskatchewan continue to grow and our province’s Aboriginal population increases, it is time to consider making Indigenous studies a required course for all U of S students.

According to a 2011 national household survey, self-identified Aboriginal people make up approximately 16 per cent of Saskatchewan’s total population. Statistics Canada also estimates that by 2031, Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal population will increase to nearly one-quarter of the total population.

These numbers, combined with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings, mean that we currently face a pivotal moment in Canadian history. We can either rise to the challenge of meeting the TRC’s goals or we can, once again, fail Aboriginal peoples.

The TRC’s final report was released in June 2015 and one of the calls to action includes ensuring that Canadian school children are taught the history and legacy of residentialIndigenous Studies schools. If school children are required to learn about this history, why aren’t post-secondary students?

The level of education offered to my generation on the topic of Indigenous studies is inadequate. I attended a high school where the options were to either take a history course or a native studies course. My interest in World War history prompted me to take history through all four years, therefore missing any educational opportunities in Indigenous studies.

Having to choose between these two options sends the inaccurate message that Canada’s  history is something separate from Aboriginal history. While they have distinct stories and are each unique, Canadian history itself cannot be separate from the history and relationships our country has with Aboriginal peoples. They are forever intertwined.

I am ashamed to admit that I am entering my fourth year at the U of S and it is only now that I am taking Indigenous Studies 107: Introduction to Canadian Native Studies. My knowledge until this point came from what I learned in high school and from conversations with others, which amounts to very little.

I realize that my own lack of knowledge sets me at a huge disadvantage. Even an introductory course can be a massive help in clearing up misunderstandings, misconceptions and inaccurate information about a crucial portion of Canada’s population — a population who was here first.

To move forward from the TRC’s recommendations and to truly implement the findings, we have to start with knowledge. A lack of knowledge is ignorance, which leads to a lack of understanding, a lack of responsibility and false ideas about Aboriginal people and their history.

It is an entirely different thing to actually learn this information from professors and educators who study in the field and who identify as Indigenous themselves, rather than to make assumptions or form opinions without being adequately informed.

As of fall 2015, there are a total of 2,072 undergraduate and graduate Aboriginal students at the U of S, which is approximately 10 per cent of the total student population. While this number is significant, all of us going forth from the U of S upon graduation will enter fields where we will undoubtedly be working with people of many different backgrounds, including Aboriginal people.

To not be aware of their culture, traditions or history is both a shame and a set-up for failure. Having at least a basic understanding should be a minimum requirement for graduation, especially at a university that so highly prioritizes indigenization. After all, how can one claim to be educated when that education is missing key information about our country’s past, present and future?

Although it sounds simple, the first step towards reconciliation is knowledge. In recognizing my own ignorance, I have realized that a lack of knowledge is both divisive and harmful. There is simply no other way.

Naomi Zurevinski / Editor-in-Chief

Graphic: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor