Canadian universities are struggling to address the education recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. But Mount Royal University has already taken steps in that direction and will be deciding soon how best to implement its plans for Indigenization.
One of the report’s recommendations calls for the government to “provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.” The report also highlights journalism as a specific program that should have required education about Aboriginal people and their history.
However, before the final report was released, Mount Royal University had already started working on its own Indigenous Strategic Plan in 2013.
Jim Zimmer, the associate vice-president for teaching and learning at Mount Royal, says the eventual curriculum change will help all students and graduates have a deeper appreciation for Indigenous culture, Indigenous ways of knowing and the issues and challenges that Indigenous people face, particularly the intergenerational damage caused by Canada’s residential school system.
Zimmer says the university had begun the framework of bringing together the Indigenous Strategic Plan because of a concern for the real gap in post-secondary achievement when comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Canada.
“Mount Royal can certainly do its part to help close that educational gap. We then hope that translates into more Indigenous graduates working in a greater number of professional fields,” says Zimmer.
John Fischer, the director of MRU’s Iniskim Centre, an on-campus center that offers a variety of programs and supports for Aboriginal students, says Indigenous courses are needed at the university. “There is only one measure that matters, and that is the academic success of Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students,” – John Fischer says.
Fischer says he frequently hears from non-Indigenous students, faculty and staff that they know nothing about Indigenous peoples.
MRU student Michelle Harris agrees that having mandatory Indigenous courses at the university is an important idea.
“My kids are in school and they’re learning about the residential schools,” says Harris. “Also, I am an environmental student and we’re always learning about traditional ecological knowledge, so I think everybody can totally benefit from that.”
The recommendation of Indigenous courses as a graduation requirement comes from the five goals listed under the Indigenous Strategic Plan.
There are two primary ideas being proposed on how to practically incorporate Indigenous courses into the curriculum.
The first option – considered the most bold – is to have one three-credit Indigenous course that all students would be required to take.
However, Zimmer says this option has not gone over so well at other Canadian universities.
The other option is to have each program on campus create a three-credit Indigenously themed course that is specifically tailored to the learning outcomes of that specific program.
Overall, Fischer says he hopes the implementation of Indigenous courses as a graduation requirement would instill academic success for every student, regardless of their heritage.
“There is only one measure that matters, and that is the academic success of Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students,” says Fischer.
The plan’s recommendations were approved by the President’s Executive Council in August last year. An official decision on which of the two ideas the university will move ahead with has not been decided, but discussions are ongoing and the goal is to implement changes by 2021.
MRU Strategic Plan Goals
1. Indigenizing Mount Royal University
Cultivate respectful and welcoming environments that prevail over the legacy of colonization.
2. Culturally respectful indigenous research
Foster respect for indigenous ways of knowing and knowledge-production and increase capacity for Indigenous scholarship
3. Bridge-building with Indigenous education stakeholders
Build strong relationships by forging mutually supportive and productive partnerships with all stakeholders in Indigenous education
4. Support for Indigenous learners
Work with our communities to enhance the academic, personal and cultural experience of Indigenous learners
5. Respectful and inclusive curricula and pedagogies
Promote culturally responsible and respectful curricula that integrates Indigenous pedagogies and ways of knowing
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