Why Indigenous Studies shouldn’t be mandatory

It’s redundant, it’s unfair, and coercion causes resentment


Beaudin-Herney from YouTube/BradBasic

A third-year student from First Nations University wants to force all students at the nearby University of Regina—and eventually everywhere—to take mandatory Indigenous Studies courses.

The idea is gaining steam more quickly than Julianne Beaudin-Herney, 20, had imagined.

More than 1,000 people have signed her petition entitled Students Initiative to Change On-Campus Systemic Racism. Administrators have offered support, student union presidents across the country have fallen over themselves to sign. NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton added her name.

The only people who have dared to publicly question the proposal are a few U of R engineering students. They don’t want to lose the single humanities course they get out of 45 classes in 4.5 years. Engineering undergrads are already so busy that only 64 per cent of them finish in six years.

Right now, for the single elective, they can choose from Philosophy, English, Women’s Studies or Religion. The associate dean says Indigenous Studies will soon be on the list of options.

But Beaudin-Herney won’t accept an optional course. She wants a mandatory credit imposed.

Kyle Smyth, of the Regina Engineering Students’ Society, isn’t willing to take it. He won’t give up English (his single humanities course) for Indigenous Studies, he doesn’t want a 46th class, and he objects to being forced to spend $650 and countless hours on a subject he’s not interested in.

I’m with him. Indigenous Studies is fine as an elective. But for many, it would be a waste of time and money. Above all, it’s wrong to force students to take classes focused on one minority’s history—especially when that minority’s history is already widely-covered in Canadian K-12 curricula.

Before you dismiss my ideas as evidence of White Privilege, or start telling me that all courses are currently viewed through a European lens—as Beaudin-Herney informs me—hear me out.

I agree with Beaudin-Herney that we need to mend the relationship between Indigenous Canadians and non-Indigenous Canadians. As she points out, the proportion of Saskatchewan’s population that’s Indigenous is growing—it’s projected to increase from 15 per cent today to one-third by 2045.

Different rules for Aboriginal Canadians, often imposed on them by White Canadians, have caused disproportionate levels of violence, unemployment and addiction in many Indigenous communities.

It’s never been more important that we learn to get along, and universities are leading the way.

But I learned enough about—indeed from Aboriginal Canadians—to take part in this national conversation without having been forced to take a mandatory course in university.

I learned enough because Indigenous history is already a priority in Canadian elementary and secondary schools and already permeates humanities and social sciences classes in universities.

Saskatchewan has integrated Indigenous studies into K-12 classes since 1986. It’s the same in Ontario. As a 26-year-old, I can assure you that Indigenous issues were the primary focus of my social science and history classes from kindergarten to graduate school at UBC.

In Grade Four, I filled in a map of Canada showing the different Aboriginal linguistic groups. In Grade Five I made bannock with Algonquin grandmothers. In Grade Six I listened carefully to a Cree woman about how she was flown from Hudson Bay each fall to residential schools in Timmins.

In Grade 10, after skimming over the defining moments of Canada’s history like the War of 1812 and the Conquest of 1759, my teacher spent the rest of the semester lionizing a Metis—Louis Riel.

In first and second-year at the University of Guelph, my Canadian History courses were filled, once again, with explorations of the relationship between Canada’s Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.

It wasn’t until year two of university that I was allowed to even consider anyone else’s history. I took Mexican history, Indian history, rural history, African history, anthropology and medieval British history. In an elective called Canadian Social History, I learned about Canada’s systemic discrimination against women, gays and lesbians, Eastern Europeans, Asians, Jews and Africans.

I could have taken Indigenous Studies as an elective—but I didn’t. I’d learned enough already.

Students who come after me should be able to decide when they too have learned enough.

But there’s another problem. A mandatory class is a slippery slope. Beaudin-Herney tells me that the catalyst for demanding a mandatory course in Indigenous Studies was when her feelings were hurt at Halloween by students who donned leather fringe and feathers and sold themselves Indian princesses. There never were Indian princesses, she points out. It was insensitive stereotyping.

As a gay Canadian, I’ve been hurt by stereotypes too. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. And there are many gays and lesbians who feel more impacted by stereotypes than I do. Trust me, if Aboriginal Canadians get courses imposed on all students, gay Canadians will demand them too.

But if that happens, some Asian Canadians—who are probably the most commonly stereotyped group on campus, as the recent memes phenomenon illustrated—will feel justified demanding a mandatory courses too. It would seem fair. The Chinese Head Tax was hurtful to their people.

But if the Chinese get a mandatory course, Muslim Canadians would make the case for their own required courses. Jewish Canadians would feel left out and demand a mandatory semester too.

This would cause Women’s Studies departments to bleed enrollment (even more than they already do) and so they’d hoist placards and demand that Women’s Studies be made mandatory too.

Meanwhile, engineering students would have to add an extra semester, at great financial cost, just to cover all the newly required courses, while still finding time for, you know, math and stuff.

Arts, business and science students could fit these courses in more easily, but they’d have to sacrifice most other electives. There’d be even less time to learn tangible skills for the workforce.

And if that happened, I’m not convinced it would lead to a better relationship between Canada’s diverse communities. If anything, I think it would lead to more resentment.

Consider these words that Alan Paton, the writer and politician who tried to bring together the oppressors and the oppressed of South Africa, penned in Cry, the Beloved Country in 1947:

“I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.”

Most Canadians I know are currently turned to loving. But if they’re coerced into giving up freedom of choice at university, many, I fear, would be turned back to hating–and we’d be no further ahead.

Agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.


Follow @JoshDehaas, @maconcampus and @macleansmag on Twitter.


Why Indigenous Studies shouldn’t be mandatory

  1. I don’t know, Indigenous Studies courses look at these issues from a completely different perspective than a history course which mentions Louis Riel and tells students to memorize the year of the Red River Rebellion (and in which Indigenous people are likely underrepresented as instructors to boot). I still think there is value in Indigenous Studies courses even if you have taken a few history classes already.

    I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea. I have, in some of my more frustrated moments, said that I think engineering students should be forced to take a Womyn’s Studies class because of the level of sexism in many engineering faculties (including mine, back when that was my ill-advised field of study). And there does seem to be a very racist undercurrent in Canadian society and Canadian political discourse regarding indigenous people.

    But, I also think that if it’s that important, maybe we should consider doing in in Grade 12 rather than in university so everyone has to take it rather than just those who go to university. And without activating the weird persecution complex that engineering students have, there is a bit of a point in that engineers have it a little rough because they have fairly heavy course loads combined with little choice in courses and few electives.

  2. I don’t think it should be mandatory in university, but not everyone has had the same Aboriginal education through elementary that you have. I remember learning about the Haida in Grade 4, the Maritime Archaic in Grade 6, and a little bit about the Iroquois in high school. Residential schools, the 60s scoop, and the Indian Act were all glossed over and we could all do to learn more about those.

  3. “I learned how to make bannock”, yes that certainly qualifies you as expert on indigeneous histories.

  4. I do not think that a fair comparison can be made regarding the history of immigrant Canadian populations or sexual orientation. I am Metis (Cree/Scottish) and I am also a Lesbian.
    Our Aboriginal population existed here prior to contact – our history is here – in Canada – everything that happened, happeneded here – enforced upon us by our oppressors – who I might add, are still here. I am certainly not discounting the numerous injusticies of oppression and abuse that occured in other cultures and other countries – but there is a difference, here on our home and native land.
    I think we, as a society, have an obligation and a responsibility to accurately learn about Canadian history and how we have historically, and continue to treat each other.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we need to stay ‘stuck’ in the history – we all do need to move past it – but – we all should know it and understand our role in it.
    If the ‘general’ majority of Canadians truly understands why the state of our Aboriginal people is as it is today, then why isn’t it getting better? Is our majority just cold hearted, don’t care – or is it that they still don’t have a true understanding of the collective history that has brought us to this point in time?
    And, if it is the latter, than perhaps a mandatory class such as this is important – not just a bannock making session or listening to story that occupies 1 or 2 hours of an entire grade.

  5. I want to thank Mr. Dehaas for having the courage to write this article. He is stating what most people are, unfortunately, feeling. I would just like to remind everyone that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people of Canada are not minorites as Mr. Dehaas indicates. Furthermore,he is actually making a tired, old argument. I have heard this argument for the past 11 years as a faculty member every time we try to add Indigenous studies to a program or even add Indigenous content to a program. It is an argument that is used to protect one’s White privilege (whether Mr. Dehaas is willing to acknowledge this or not) or the status quo. It is a gut reaction to protect one’s privilege. The Canadian Constitution affirms that Aboriginal people of Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Metis people) have inherent rights (see section 35)- this by virtue of the fact we are Indigenous to this land. First Nations people in particular signed nation to nation treaties with the Crown that have benefitted all Canadians. While it is true that immigrants have played and continue to play an important role in the fabric of Canadian society and experienced and continue to experience racism and discrimination only Aboriginal people experienced colonization. Only Aboriginal people possess inherent rights. It is important to understand our shared history – warts and all and how this continues to impact our current relationships. It is wonderful that Mr. Dehaas learned how to make bannock or about a residential school survivor’s experience while growing up. It is a good start. If I may say so, we are never done learning. Moreover, I have students who come into my class from all walks of life who have little knowledge of our own history. Who know only the myths and misconceptions about Aboriginal people that they see in the media. Some Aboriginal people who have been stripped of their own identities and come to university and learn about themselves. I have students who, in their last year of university take my class and are angry because they are hearing about their shared history for the first time! So we cannot presume that our K-12 system is doing the job of educating our youth. Believe me, it would make my job a whole lot easier if it was! Mr. Dehaas’ title suggests that coercion causes resentment yet there are several mandatory courses everyone must take in university. How many people vehemently oppose taking a philosophy course? or the compulsory English course? Why is there such a debate about having to take a mandatory Indigenous Studies course? I think we as Canadians need to really think on this question and do some serious soul searching. Do we want to work together, mend relationships and move forward? Or do we continue down the path created by the destructive forces of colonization?

    • Dear Dr. Carrie Bourassa,
      Is it no longer possible for people to put aside their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. etc. etc. in the pursuit of critical thinking and argument? It is truly a low blow–perhaps the lowest of our time (where academe is concerned)– that any student wishing to speak his or her mind on a controversial topic is at once labeled a bigot because of the colour of his skin (which is in this case, white). Mr. Dehaas made his argument respectfully and graciously, and whether or not you agree with him (personally I do not) it is grossly unfair to accuse him of making such an argument for the sole purpose of defending “his white privilege”. It is scholars like you who are responsible for snuffing out lively debate on university campuses because from your perspective, a person is nothing more than his perceived politics. As a trans student I see this kind of pigeon-holing all the time, and I am frankly, very sick of it. If Mr. Dehaas made the argument that a trans history course should not be mandatory in universities, I would not label him an anti-trans bigot. The same goes for the Aboriginal course. Why? Because unlike you and your lot of Foucauldian fun suckers, I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. Your distaste for a particular argument is not adequate evidence that its author is a white supremacist, anti-woman, war mongering, asshole. Get used to it.

      • I’m glad Rome invaded and civilized my ancestors, Carrie how is making me take indigenous studies going to in any way practically improve the lot of Canada’s first nations? People of all races have been oppressed in some way and colonized by the other at some point…Should I get angry at the first nations for the possible extinction of Solutrean settlers to North America? You guys had 10k years to get civilization off the ground and ya didn’t, grow up and start learning Mandarin

        • Everyone is at different points in their path to understanding the world around them, including William. More education, maybe a mandatory indigenous studies course would help clarify things, such as that the Solutrean hypothesis is not supported by genetic (or other) evidence. Getting angry at First Nations for the possible extinction of a nonexistent European group could be interpreted as a pretty strong indicator of white privilege or lack of education. Personally, I believe a better job needs to be done at the K-12 level, and that a mandatory course at the university level for all degree programs unfortunately would not likely accomplish its intent.

  6. I agree that it should NOT be mandatory. It is at the cost of the student and no one else, it’s their money and they should not be forced to pay for something they don’t want. There is enough mandatory Indigenous courses in grade school. It’s just plain wrong to want to make it mandatory. I hope they don’t go through with this, argue all you want about why we should be forced to pay for more Indigenous classes in our already expensive tuition, I will not go along quietly and neither will anyone else who pays their own tuition.
    Call me racist if you want for not wanting to pay for these classes that I don’t need. It all comes down to it being my money not yours that has to cover this “mandatory” course. If it’s mandatory then it should be free. it’s still a free world last time I checked and we were still allowed to study what we want when we want with our own money.

    • Dear Oscar,
      However it is funded, perhaps those people taking these classes (who are lucky enough to be able to afford tuition and education if they’re attending, so what’s a few hundred dollars more) – who live in these territories and are NOT of Aboriginal descent – could consider it a very minor, but appropriate, way to acknowledge whose historic land they’re really living on, and on whose backs this country was actually founded. Restorative justice, if you will, that could very well transform this country.

      Alternately, perhaps people could “test out” online or with a thorough essay which surveys the same principles taught in the class. This might address your concerns, although frankly it is those who protest most and mightily who would best benefit from it.

      As for your last point, in ANY accredited courses you study, there are always mandatory classes – unless you are just going to school for the sheer fun of it, and not purposing towards a degree.

      As for your grade school comment, when I attended there were actually ZERO mandatory (or optional) Indigenous courses offered or taught, and of those that are offered now, how many of the teachers are actually qualified to teach them (or Indigenous!). And for the record: I am not even middle-aged yet. I am also a student, paying my own way through school right now.

      A few points to consider, with all due respect.

      • Whats a few hundred dollars more?? are you kidding me? I worked my butt off to pay for my tuition, my books, my rent, my bills, feed my family.
        Yes there are mandatory classes that are relevant to my degree, those I pay for willingly.

      • Or.. I could save the 1000 bucks after text books are factored in and send it to my sponsor child in Somalia or buy stock in Altria group. My time is also worth something.

    • NOt all students are from Canada . It should never be compulsury . History is great , but not to every paying student . You cannot make it a must for foreign students.

  7. Definitely would..it would allow many otherwise ignorant people an understanding of the struggles faced by indigenous peoples, and the barriers they face…

  8. I agree with the idea of the mandatory indigenous studies class. However i as a social worker and community worker, have learned that the closest we have to indigenous teachings in school are tokenistic. There is a thing called the”imaginary indian”you can get the gyst of what that is if you watch the movie ” the reel injun”. There are so many wonderful teachings we have the rites of passage is one of them that parralells many other cultures like the jews. yes history shows that like them we had a hallocaust… but is that taught? I still agree with all what has been said that i sympathize with your article and applaud you for speaking up about your perspective thats beautiful. we need more people to speak up in a good way and say what they feel when it comes to decisions. However i also agree with the fact that Canada is not healing, there is not enough taught in elementary, high school or university. OR else i wouldnt be getting into arguements with people who still ask…”residential schools are not that bad, right?…… why dont all indians go to university if its free??……..when you wear your powwow costume you so look like a real indian!….. The idea of who we are is not still not known by us or by our brothers and sisters all around us. Indian Control of Indian Education, using indian as lack of a better word, still needs to be achieved. remember when the children were taken away? well our children are still being taken away, our world needs to be educated on whats happening, the genocide the assimilation the colonization that still exists…. in order for them to want to change it.

  9. This article is a fine example of how First Nations history, issues, and it’s very nature is treated within the greater nation of Canada. Snapshots, brief glimpses that leave tiny snapshots of who we as First Nations were, are, and choose to be. None of the history lessons the author mentions deals with the actual legal and historical influences of First Nations in Canada. His summation of this education is no different than the packaged images of Indians seen throughout past advertisements and literature.

    Sadly the author does not see the connection between the ‘Indian Princess’ and what he was taught. It’s the exact same thing. Had he taken an Indigenous Studies course he would understand these same issues on the level covered in a university course, one where the actual mechanics of where we are now as a group of nations is better understood.

    It is sad that the best argument that anyone can come up with against this idea is that an individual should be able to choose when they get to stop learning. Honestly, I can’t think of any one statement I’ve heard that is as remarkably stupid and ignorant as this one.

    • yup…try not to break your arm patting your self on the back for that one Rickey…truth be told I don’t find your history interesting at all.

  10. Why shouldn’t they be mandatory? I am not First Nations and I think it would be wonderful if this was a foundational class we took. Maybe in Grade 12, yes.

  11. As educating sounding as your argument has sounded you forget. Most of the history learned in middle school is washed over and done in so little detail. Most young people forget it. Learning to bead, make bannock, or hearing a story is NOT learning the history of the First Nations people that were the founders of this country. In an Indigenous Studies 100 the real history is taught. How the First Nations people had to live through our own holocaust here in Canada. THAT is the real deep core of what is felt. Non-First Nations people not even knowing the real history and going along in life with a “rose-coloured” glasses approach to how they view First Nations History, or the worst end of it…where it puts most First Nations in who live between BC straight through to the borders of Manitoba…a mentality that “ALL” First Nations get stuff free and they don’t deserve any respect at all. I am sorry. I have to agree with Jules. She does have a more grounded point. Unless this nation respects the founding Nation that lives among you. We will not perfect the fine art of getting along. We will continue to hurt one another and create a Protest that in reality doesn’t even need to rise up if we start now to understand one another and create community to fuse a better life for all.

  12. See its people like you who leave indigenious people stuck. How could you not want to build them up from the ground which you put them in. How could you compare yourself to them? What is your purpose in life? Sure doesnt look like your goal is to make canada a better place..
    “knowing is half the battle” help them. Non-indigenious canadians are so cold hearted towards the indiginious people.. Racism still lives strongly !

    • Hi Ashley,

      I teach in a school that is heavily attended by First Nations students. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experiences there, it’s that racism goes both ways. Being a white male, I’ve heard every racial slur you can imagine. I’ve been told I personally was responsible for taking a student’s land. I’ve been called a dirty white boy. Where do you think these racist attitudes come from? The parents of these children. Curious that the few white students I have are so friendly with and accepting of their aboriginal classmates, but the aboriginal students are the ones who go out of their way to make racist remarks about anyone with a different skin colour than them. So yes, while your comment may hold some validity, it generalizes all white Canadians. Which is untrue and unfair.

  13. I think it should be mandatory. There is a lot of racism that comes from blind ignorance. People don’t want to learn, but if we are going to bridge the gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of Canada it has to come from education. No one can heal when past problems, that still affect many people today, are swept under the rug!

    Yes, the Chinese have a right to be mad about their past in Canada but this is Turtle Island, not China. The forced sacrifices of the original inhabitants of this land need to be recognized so indigenous and non-indigenous people can come together. Too many people are racist because of their own ignorance. Education is the key to a brighter future.

  14. as it seems no one likes being forced into something that they do not know, how do you think the First Nations groups of Canada felt throughout history being forced onto reservations, forced to learn a language that’s foreign to them, forced to give up their culture their language the list can go on, but it’s not about who’s Canadian by generalizing it as a group but in general to the indigenous groups of Canada this program should be implemented by that alone because I think it’s a necessary part of building that gap within both societies…”If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw

  15. Josh Dehaas, I must say that I profusely disagree with you. Im glad that you have taken the time to look into this subject and I acknowledge that you made some very good points, but Im afraid you forgot to take some things into account.
    Firstly, there is a large fluctuation in the quality of Aboriginal education depending on geographic region in Canada. Your schooling was in Ontario, and even though you feel as if your education into Indigenous studies was sufficient, we should remember that Miss Beaudin-Herney, who is the young lady fighting to make Indigenous studies courses mandatory, is fighting to do so in Regina, Saskatchewan, a place that I assume you have never had to be educated. You cannot assume that the quality of Indigenous Studies education in Saskatchewan is equivalent to the quality of Indigenous Studies education that you received in Ontario, or even that your feelings about your quality of education in Ontario are shared by others, because both points are overgeneralizations that could in themselves be a whole other debate.
    Secondly, I really must ask you what you mean when you say in your article that an Indigenous Studies course would be a “waste of time”. You feel that your experiences in studying Indigenous topics is sufficient to what you will need in the future (so far, you can identify the languages are spoken for each geographic region in Canada, you have some knowledge in bannock cooking, you’ve studied Louis Riel, the War of 1812, etc, and you have looked into contemporary relationships between Canadian Aboriginal people and the government). To be perfectly frank, I personally believe that these few topics you have touched on in your overall education does not in any way satisfy what every Canadian should know about our Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Not only should all Canadians understand the horrible mistreatments of Aboriginal peoples in the past, but they should have a thorough understanding of how these mistreatments are still affecting Aboriginal peoples today and are contributing to our abilities to thrive in Canadian society. You may know how to make bannock, but does that skill really make you understand the Aboriginal experience? Indigenous Studies is a highly beneficial course that will help its students understand their own history, and Canadian history. It is in no way a waste of time.
    Thirdly, your point that if Indigenous Studies will be made mandatory then all other courses regarding marginalized groups will be fought also to be made mandatory is lacking in logic, for the simple fact that no marginalized group in Canada has the equivalent historic importance and political attention in Canada, and simply cannot be compared in any way to Aboriginal people, and so the justification for these courses to be made mandatory will not be as strong as it will with this course.
    Of course, if any other courses regarding other marginalized groups were made mandatory (womens studies courses, gay and lesbian studies, etc), I dont think you can deny that these courses would too be beneficial courses to their students, as long as the need for the course was shown like it has been shown here.
    I could say more, but I would like to finish with this: I have been an Aboriginal student in Saskatchewan for my entire life, and I have found my experience in regards to Aboriginal content in school highly unsatisfying. Just last year, another student at my high school asked me what a residential school was. Having a mandatory Indigenous Studies class at the University of Regina would be a huge benefit to this province, and I fully support Miss Beaudin-Herney for her work in getting it.

  16. I agree that an Indigenous Studies course should be mandatory. But I believe it should be taught sooner than university. Token crafts aside, I didn’t learn much about native history in elementary and high school, and was told by my social studies teacher that Louis Riel was a madman. Being Metis, that was… disappointing.

    What I would love to see is an actual course created to teach solely aboriginal history. Not culture, but history. People need to learn, and learn young, the adversities the indigenous cultures have faced (and still do). We learn early the atrocities of World War II, we should also learn the atrocities our own country has visited upon it’s own people and how it affects our modern society.

  17. It’s a good argument, and certainly what the “ruling class” might argue from a basis of, yes, white privilege – even though the “but this isn’t white privilege talking” has been pre-emptively stated by Mr. DeHaas. He unfortunately then goes on to explain why the “dominant narrative” must remain dominant (otherwise, everyone else will want a mandatory voice too, which is currently only held by the dominating culture). Which is, I’m afraid, white privilege. (Where, by the way, is a Maclean’s article written by/from Julianne Beaudin-Hearney’s perspective – I’d be happy to learn it exists, but not too terribly surprised if it doesn’t.) And unfortunately, his main argument does not hold water, because Aboriginal peoples are not “a minority” – but *are* the Original Inhabitants and First Peoples/Founding Peoples of this territory. Everyone else? There may be more immigrants than Aboriginals right now, but only from the past century or two. It’s time to acknowledge, and embrace, the full history of this territory in as reconciliatory a way as we can. Racism is still all-too-pervasive. Mr. DeHaas identifying as gay (and therefore a “minority”, albeit not necessarily a visible one) does not somehow mean that he has special insight into Aboriginal worldviews (although he might appreciate learning about two-spirited teachings). Colonialism is genocide in progress, and education is the only weapon to counter it. Many young people (and professionals – and let’s also acknowledge that many students aren’t always fresh out of high school) do NOT have even the knowledge and exposure Mr. DeHaas claims to have.

  18. As our Elders would say, the fact that you actually wrote this article, and said what you did, demonstrates that you did not learn enough. Gilakas’la(thank you) for enlightening us with your ignorance, it is indicative of the need for mandatory courses

  19. Indigenous history is NOT widely covered in the K-12 curriculum. As a Toronto public school student, I can say first hand that within my 12 years of schooling there has been very limited time devoted to Aboriginal studies, rather, Canada’s colonial history.
    Most of my early elementary school history teachings were focused on pioneering in Canada, my middle school history classes focused on Confederation and colonialism in Canada. There was only a single period focused on the history of residential schools and their effect, in my mandatory high school grade 10 history class.
    The ‘Aboriginal Beliefs and Values’ course is only offered online, for a single semester, to a limited number of students.
    If not a mandatory university course, Indigenous Studies must be better included in elementary school, high school curriculum. Aboriginal peoples are an extremely important part of Canadian history, and our future.

  20. I would like to say that I am shocked but sadly that is no longer the case when I see popular media such as Macleans provide an article to post the systemic racism Canada has by an author who requires obviously more bannock lessons. Daily I am living a life of tolerance for the social marginalization Canada’s political leaders and more so educators recite the same tokenistic, Hollywood, Pocahontas euphemisms of their Indian experience. The decolonization process must begin and if only a few provinces adopt the K-12 selective indianisms then progress will never come and my grandchildren will live under the integrated approach of educators. I’ve heard that Canada should be looked upon like the tripod of a teepee, the first three poles are the fondation and the English, French and Indigineous would crest the strength of that teepee! Right now our tripod is weakened because of the lack of strength to support Indigineous people’s as the inherent holders of the land so many Canadians brag about! Keep up your writing to further entrench racism! Hai Hai

  21. “In Grade Six I listened carefully to a Cree woman about how she was flown from Hudson Bay each fall to residential schools in Timmins.”

    I’m sure there was much more to her story than being flown from Hudson Bay to Timmins each fall. Has anyone heard the one about the little boy who was forced to kneel on pencils and was beaten relentlessly while being asked “have you had enough yet?” or about the child who had sewing needles pushed through their tongue for speaking their language? Probably not.

    Much of the Aboriginal education in our K-12 schools is the ‘easier’ content to learn. You learn about Canada’s linguistic groups, the bare minimum information of residential schools, the treaties, words such as assimilation and colonization, and very little about the Native-White relationship history.

    I have a non-Native friend who is currently taking her very first Indigenous Studies course, and I’m her go-to girl. One day while discussing her course, and informing her that there are many tribes throughout Saskatchewan, and so much more throughout Canada, she said “I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but..what are you?” and I told her, I was a human being (and Native people have not been considered as such until recent years, hell, my Human Rights didn’t even exist on Reserve until recently. Who I am as a person is defined through the Indian Act, and under this act, I’m not even really considered an adult but a child). Anywho, I continued to explain to my friend that I am Cree and Dene. One day she was excited to learn that buffalo chips were used as fuel, just yesterday, she was asking me about the Treaties. As someone who had recieved her Grade 12 education, do you think she should’ve known most of this by now? What she is learning in her University level Indigenous Studies course, is what should be taught in Grades 10-12, but it obviously is not!

    I know not everyone may agree to have Indigenous Studies as a mandatory class, because they don’t feel they should even get to know about the history of the land that they are inhabiting, but to end or even reduce the amount of ignorance and racism, I whole heartedly agree that it should be mandatory.

    I would like for people to understand why Aboriginal women are targeted for violence, exactly why Indian Residential schools and education were mandatory, Section 114, the discrimination of First Nations women in the Indian Act and how Sandra Lovelace changed that, how our ancestral Chiefs were coerced into signing the Treaties, the 60’s scoop, and so much more. These horrific things are a part of Canada’s history and just cannot be swept under the rug. All it takes is FOUR months (three inlcuding the fourth month to study and write a final) to even learn a little about Indigenous history in Canada.

    I signed the petition, and stand behind Julianne Beaudin-Herney 100%. I’m glad someone finally said something about this

  22. This is a frustrating situation, I personally feel that this is a course that should be mandatory in High Schools and even before that, in grade schools, to teach a child and teens about Indigenous Peoples and Residential Schools, and so on. At attempt to dissolve the stigmas that the Indigenous people are faced with in modern society. Only then maybe we wouldn’t see the anger implied if this happened to be a mandatory course in Universities. Throughout Canada there is hardly any aboriginal content taught through out High Schools. And I occasionally hear about the lucky student who would get a teacher who would be dedicated to teaching anything Indigenous, but it would definitely go out of the norm of the curriculum. When I took the Grade 10 ‘Canadian History’ class (in Ontario), (which was only a good 3 years ago) the only aboriginal content we covered were a couple of slides on a power point. Yet for a Canadian History class, we learned an awful lot about the wars over seas, not trying to say that it isn’t important to learn about, but First Nations people are Canadian content itself. And I find it disrespectful that the history of First Nations people were hardly covered. But analyzing bits of the upcoming curriculum (in Ontario) I am starting to see a trend of aboriginal content being fused within newer courses that are coming out, but this shouldn’t be happening in 2012, this should have been something we learned about years ago. But anyway, we shouldn’t dismiss the idea of having mandatory courses that teaches about the Indigenous, rather it should be taught to students much younger then the university level.

  23. From your examples of Indigenous education, and by your whole article, it’s painfully clear you definitely HAVE NOT “learned enough” about the First People of the country you live in.

    And while you have had such extensive learning experiences regarding First Nations in Canada, most haven’t. Yes, it’s been “integrated” but that doesn’t mean teachers have presented the material in any meaningful way (‘I made bannock, I know all about the Indians now’ kind of classes).

    I live in Saskatchewan. The only time I remember learning anything about Indigenous people in school was in grade 5, and it was about Mestizos from Mexico.

    And you’d have to be blind not to notice that First Nations issues dominate much of the Canadian political landscape, and most Canadians ignorantly assume they have any knowledge base to join in and meaningfully contribute to the conversation. They don’t; they simply do not know enough of First Nations history or issues to have any sympathy whatsoever. Most Canadians simply don’t have a clue when it comes to First Nations people, all they see are people who get government money and live on reserves. And the pathetic thing is they don’t know why First Nations people deserve the money (legal Treaties, hello) or why they “choose” to live on reserves when they could just “move to the city.”

    Oh brother, do you seriously not have a clue how much a mandatory single university course could help Canada as a whole? More empathy and understanding never hurt anyone, did it?

  24. <>

    This would be amazing if it happened to be true. My husband is a teacher here in BC and just started teaching Grade 9 Social Studies. He was shocked to find out that my Aboriginal group was not covered in the textbook! When he asked the department head at his school about who he would speak to in order to get a revision in the textbook, the department head said “I thought the Mi’kmaq were wiped out in the 1800s?”. My husband replied “Well, I hope not, since I’m married to a Mi’kmaw woman!” (The department head was confusing the Mi’kmaq with the Beothuk, whose last known speaker and survivor perished in the 1820s)

    I wish I could say that incidents such as these were few and far between, but they aren’t.


    1986 was only 26 years ago. Consider how long indigenous studies WEREN’T taught, and the effect that has had on Canadian society as a whole. You said that Indigenous studies were the PRIMARY FOCUS of your social science and history classes during your whole academic career. I call bullshit.

    As far as your decrying that Asian-Canadians, Muslim-Canadians and everyone else will want a mandatory course if the Indigenous Studies course is mandated, I again call Bullshit. The difference between those is that Idigenous peoples were HERE FIRST. Their land is the land you benefit from! In many cases, people will say “but they sold it to the settlers!” to which I ask… How have the treaties been upheld? What about unceded Native lands, such as the Coast Salish Territories on which I live (Vancouver) or the unceded Mi’kmaq territory of Halifax?


    Natives, Metis and Inuit are lauded as these grand figureheads of the past – Canada’s fur trade, sharing crops and agricultural practices, etc.. we’re not presented as a THRIVING AND CURRENT population! Loving? That is a joke. Indigenous populations are tolerated AT THE VERY BEST, not embraced and recognized and appreciated as the peoples whose backs were broken so that settlers could stand and get a boost into being a first-world country.

  25. Based on the majority of letters above, it is apparent that much of the indoctrination in our schools has already happened. Here is what I get from most of the authors above.
    To offer a point of view that differs from the “white man bad, First Nation people victims” means you are a racist.
    Secondly, because they arrived first, they are entitled to special privileges forever. Imagine if this was applied to European countries, who was there first?
    Thirdly, all residential schooling was bad. There was certainly some bad apples (like certain teachers at private schools), but has anyone ever looked at the overall results for these children in comparison with today’s teaching in the reservations?
    We need a real dose of reality and a totally different approach to our strategies for the indigenous peoples and reservations.

    • “Just facts”? Okay.

      Residential schools:

      1907 discovery of a death rate of nearly 50% in western Indian residential schools, and the suppression of this evidence by the Canadian government and churches.. and that’s just what was REPORTED.

      There is a list of 28 known MASS GRAVES full of aboriginal children outside of residential schools.

      • I’m interested in finding out more, please provide links So I can become enlightened

  26. I agree with Josh that an Indigenous Studies course should not be mandatory. Sadly, most young people are not usually interested in ANY history. I’m sure you would find great ignorance among many Canadians regarding Indigenous, Canadian, AND world history. Ideally, we should all be informed about each of them.

  27. I understand the financial implications and time constraints required in taking a compulsory course. There is only so much time to “finish” one’s education and another mandatory course would, indeed, be an imposition.
    To alleviate any such burden on a student, I would like to offer one suggestion. Have students take any course that they want in an aboriginal community for a semester. The education that they receive by living in the community would be infinitely better than anything that they “learn” in a classroom and there would be no concern about adding mandatory and expensive courses to an already crowded program.
    I think that this experience would lead to a better understanding of our aboriginal brothers and sisters. If we can accommodate people from all over the world, why are we willing to do less for our own people?

  28. If the various provincial systems of education in Canada had already adequately taught Canadians about indigenous history and present-day reality, Canadians would be able to answer the following questions:

    1) What is Status and how is it determined? (http://apihtawikosisan.com/?p=484)

    2) Do First Nations pay taxes? (http://apihtawikosisan.com/?p=421)

    3)What’s the big deal with cultural appropriation?(apihtawikosisan.com/?p=1002)

    4) Has the Canadian government’s approach to Treaties and Treaty Making changed since 1871? (http://apihtawikosisan.com/?p=232)

    5) Are the Metis just part native, part European? (http://apihtawikosisan.com/?p=506)

    6) Is there ongoing discrimination against native peoples and if so, what does it look like? (http://apihtawikosisan.com/?p=575)

    The fact is, most Canadians cannot answer these questions. As has been pointed out very excellently already, indigenous topics are approached in a tokenistic manner in most provincial curricula. Indigenous Studies attempts to redress this unacceptable gap with a more critical and accurate analysis.

    So yes. Let this be a mandatory class in all post-secondary institutions, with an even larger mandatory requirement for anyone wishing to become a teacher at any level, for anyone entering the health field, for anyone entering the social services professions in general. There is not a single field of post-secondary study that could not benefit from this.

    At the same time, we need to rehaul the K-12 system.

    How many years did it take to cause the damage we see today in our communities? It is going to take at least that long to undo it, so we might as well start now.

  29. A mandatory course at the university level costs a lot, it’s time and money to the students. I understand how little of it there is – I worked full time to pay for my courses/rent/food/life, and that meant a 7 year undergrad degree.

    If someone had come in and demanded I add another course to my degree I would have been almost indescribably angry and resentful. When taking a full course load, meeting the University’s specialization requirements and the professional certifying bodies course work requirements the degree already took 4.5 semesters with a 3.0+ average. If you were lower you needed more courses for a minor as you no longer qualified for specialization. You want to add time and money to something like that? No. Not for a course in something that is periferal to my degree, has no impact on what the degree is in.

    That being said I minored in Physical Anthropology, taking a few classes on Canadian Northern Peoples because it was something that would help me do my real job. But that was a choice. I picked those courses, they interested me and while periferal to my actual degree they were helpful in the real world. If I was going to focus on work in South America I would have taken classes about those indigenous groups instead.

    You start forcing people to take these courses you are guaranteed to just make them angry and resentful. That’s what highschool if for. Do it there.

    • Exactly. Coercion does NOT bring about sympathy.

  30. Someone please tell me this article is a joke? I am so embarrassed to be at the same school as you.
    You clearly have no grasp on the issue. I’ll leave it at that.

    • Word.

  31. The Northwest Territories has had a mandatory “Northern Studies” credit requirement for high schoolgraduation for many years now. The program is/was locally developed through the department of Education. The majority of the developers were and are first nations educators, representing the Dene, Metis and Innuvialuit. Also check out “Dene Kede”, a curricular approach in NWT which seeks to imbue all educational practice with First Nations values, concepts and content.

  32. Forcing students to pay for courses they cannot afford, have no interest in and have no bearing on their degree does nothing to foster a better understanding of the issues that First Nations face. Do we curtail a students acadmeic freedom to pander to a personal agenda? Is this a road we really want to go down.

    • Precisely so.

  33. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Opinions though do not make informed analysis and Mr. Dehass’ opinion is without a doubt one that would earn him somewhere around a D- in most first year, university level, Indigenous Studies Courses. Keep in mind that he is really talking about just that, a university education.

    Last year, my 9 year old son announced at dinner that his class was studying Indians. As an Anishnabek father, I asked him what his teacher was talking about. He replied with enthusiasm that the class had watched the first half of Disney’s Pocahontas and that they would watch the second half the following day. Needless to say, the class did not watch anymore Pocahontas. When I called the teacher the next morning she was at first very defensive. When I explained to her that this film objectified Aboriginal women and contributed in part to their vulnerability, she began to soften a bit. I offered her some reading material and several films that depicted Indigenous peoples as they are (at a level that her grade 3 students could comprehend and enjoy) and I also offered her the film 3rd World Canada for her own education. She admitted that when confronted with teaching this part of the curriculum she knew absolutely nothing. Although I had been as understanding as possible, I also told her that if she continued to present Pocahontas to the class I would sue the school board.

    I do teach Indigenous Studies at Queen’s University. I would have to say that 97% of my student know next to nothing about the Indigenous peoples who live within Canada. They have learned the celebratory history of Canada that portrays Aboriginal people as subjects of a glorified colonial process. Their initial ignorance is understandable but what is worse is many also lack the analytical tools to really begin to deconstruct their ignorance and misconceptions. Frankly, most university students have acquired about a grade 4 education in Indigenous Studies and a lifetime of stereotypes and meaningless trivia. During the course of study many students become angry that they have received such a shallow education in high school. When they have completed the Intro course students regularly comments that they feel that they have become “better Canadians” for the effort.

    I suggest to Mr. Dehass that while some students should be exempted from compulsory Indigenous Studies that all university students should be required to pass a proficiency test focused on basic knowledge about Aboriginal people and Aboriginal issues in Canada. I would invite him to take such a test and if he failed to be required with all other students who fail, to take and pass with at least a C average, a compulsory course before receiving a Canadian university diploma.

    • I thought Natives got their post-secondary education paid for. Unlike the rest of us second-class citizens.

    • Plus, it would create a lot more jobs for indigenous studies grads. Maybe something tenure track for a change.

  34. I do think that adding Indigenous studies to high school curriculum is a very good idea. I found my education in history to be severely lacking, and my education in social justice to be non-existent. Public education is supposed to serve to raise young people who are a positive force. Whether you want to or not, you have to learn about literature, civics, sex, math- all things that contribute to a well-rounded person who understands the world they live in. Why not indigenous studies too?
    I do not support the idea of a mandatory course at the university level, though. I oppose any requirements that do not relate to the degree (a currently existing example would be engineers who have to take a course on literature). Although, I would expect anyone with a degree in social sciences to have some education in indigenous studies. Requirements are specific to each program, and I think any kind of across-the-board requirement is unwise.

  35. I commend this young man for publicly declaring what he thinks on this issue. His comments, however, illustrate why something like a mandatory Indigenous studies course would be beneficial. When I was in elementary school in the 1980’s and high school in the 1990’s curriculum related to Indigenous topics was embarrassingly limited. To write “I learned how to make bannock” as a defense against mandatory Indigenous studies courses is like writing “I like eating bangers and mash” as a reason against mandatory courses about the role of the Monarchy in our country or how the Westminster system has influenced our nation and many in the world, or how constitutional monarchy ushered in a new era of democracy to stem the tide of popular revolutions. “Well, I watch Coronation Street every day, so why do I have to learn about the British Royal family, or the 13 Colonies revolting against King George the third?” What this young man has covered are rather trivial aspects of the role Indigenous cultures and people have played in the development of Canada as a nation. Discussions on Treaties, for instance, and the crucial role these agreements played in allowing the West to be settled and the Western provinces to be established are not something that can be compared to making Bannock or learning about Louis Riel: who despite his significant place in Canadian history is only one of many important Metis leaders and rarely an adequate study of the role the Metis have played in this country.

    The role of Indigenous people in this country is one that should be treated as equal to that of the British, French and immigration in general. Canadian history courses would not be worthy of credit if they didn’t adequately cover the role Aboriginals played in Canada’s development; the early Canadian economy was one largely based on the fur trade, and Aboriginal people played a significant role in this industry. To teach otherwise would be to deny an adequate education to those on the learning end of the curriculum.
    While I admire the writer for taking a stand, his arguments against are not well thought out. I have an issue with the course being mandatory in all university programming, sure. What I do support, however, is that greater emphasis be placed on Aboriginal issues in elementary and high school. The need for Canadians to really learn about Aboriginal issues does not stem from the need to “protect” a “minority” but to illustrate the role a founding culture of our nation has played in this country. The fur trade was our first industry and Aboriginal people played a crucial role; the settling of the West was made possible by peaceful Treaties signed between the Crown and First Nations; Louis Riel and his supporters played a significant role in the establishment of the province of Manitoba; the Inuit played a significant, and painful, role in establishing Canadian sovereignty over lands in the Arctic; Aboriginal men and women volunteered in large numbers in pretty much every war that Canada has been a part of; residential schools and reserves tore families apart and were instrumental in creating social problems that are rampant amongst Aboriginal communities and that erode economic productivity in our country and leave all of us worse off; in places like Saskatchewan, Aboriginal youth are the workers and leaders of tomorrow and the economy cannot reach its potential without their full participation. These types of issues are what make mandatory Indigenous studies important. If it were a matter of learning about cuisine and the odd hero, all we would need to learn about British influence is that toffee and shortbread are delicious (thank you Scotland), Henry the VIII made divorce fashionable, fish and chips are great comfort food, Winston Churchill was a real lion of a chap and that should cover the significance of the British in our Nation.

  36. The idea of a required “indigenous people’s course” for all university students as part of their general education in Canada doesn’t make sense in an increasingly complex world. This complexity is overcrowding the curriculum increasingly year after year. The history of indigenous people in Canada should be part of a required high-school course on Canadian history early in the high school program. I wish indigenous people well, but I fear that many of these “good folk” are “their own worst enemies.” World history shows clearly that-if you don’t “get with it-you are gradually but steadily “out of it”. So I say sincerely: “Jump into society and sink or swim”! That’s what everyone else is doing…

  37. “If you don’t see it our way, you obviously didn’t learn enough.”
    You will be assimilated by the tyranny of the vocal, collectivist “whine-ority.”
    We really need a course to lay out once and for all the ranking structure of the aggrieved – say, blacks outrank women, who have a better claim than gays, aboriginals in there somewhere – Bell Hooks describes herself as “the most oppressed person in America because she is (if memory serves) “a lesbian, feminist, communist, black single mother in an interracial relationship. (My God- its a wonder she can get out of bed to cash that university paycheck). She could perhaps be the final arbiter in the “victim blame game sweepstakes.” That way, when things like this come up, we can run it up the chain of command and see if any higher ranking grievance mongers have a superior claim.
    You beclown yourselves. You have a voice in the public square only because you enjoy at present the force of law. That is going to change as your arguments continue to deconstruct themselves. When that day comes, we will all be poorer for it.

  38. The problem with any of these courses is that they are always biased. They are always whitewashed politically correct propaganda. If you think you are truly learning about a people or a society when you take these courses then you truly are going through life with blinders on. Do your own research and find out the truth.

  39. Engineers need 46 classes, one of which is already a humanities.

    So, all 45 classes are absolutely essential to produce an Eng. Graduate? How about dropping a few Business classes from the curriculum? Intro Business classes are full of Eng. students who see them as joke classes.

  40. In defense of Josh Dehaas’ article, shouldn’t French courses in university also be mandatory in that regard, given the official bilingualism of the country and its relevance to the history of Canada, the Constitution, and political affairs?

    I propose a more radical alternative: eliminate all breadth requirements for all programs at universities. No American university forces their students to take African-American studies, despite their country’s history with slavery. This should have been covered as part of history in American high school, the same way Aboriginal issues should have been covered in Canadian high school.

    It is the high school curricula that needs to keep up; academic policies and graduation requirements should not be tied to agendas of social change. Social change is an important thing, but this is not the appropriate medium.

    • A lot of US states do mandate the teaching of American history for all undergrads. The school I went to called for two courses (six hours) in African-American history, US military history, etc. Most students, however, take the two first year survey classes.

  41. University is the opposite of diversity. Get your degree and get out as soon as you can – it is a toxic place to be.

    Try not to borrow money if at all possible.

    Be sure you can spell, add and write – because that’s really all the real world expects of a grad.

  42. I have lived in Regina for ten years and I’m in the process of getting my second degree from the U of R amd I can tell you that I completely support this petition.

    First, to all of those arguing about the burdensome costs this would put on students it’s simply not true. I have argued for lower tuition for much of my academic career but in order to get a degree you have take a certain amount of classes. Almost all programs have open electives this would take one of those away.

    I was forced to take English and Math and Stats and two courses in a second language and a natural science and countless other courses that may have not been my first choice but I took them because they were requires for graduation.

    The article correctly points out one Faculty where only one humanity elective exists but what’s crazy is that at a University built on treaty four land in the City where they hung Louis Riel, in a Province with 16% of the population is Aboriginal an Engineering student at the U of R cannot get credit for Indigenous Studies 100. Not as an elective.

    The other consistent argument is that this education should happen in k-12 and therefore it will be unnecessary in University. They teach English in every year and yet every program requires English 100 in University. Where is the outrage over that?

    As has been pointed out your educational experiences are examples of tokenism and do not come close to understanding the history of colonialism in Canada. Or the present day colonial regime that is imposed through the Indian Act and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The Canadian Government continues to decide who is and isn’t an Indian, it imposes goverenance and 3rd party management on many reserves, it refuses to live up to treaty obligations, allows back logs the land claims program so that it would take 700 years to clear the back log, funds status First Nations students about 30% less then non Aboriginal students in the k-12 system, incarcerates a disproportionate amount of Aboriginal people even after the Supreme Court ruled that the judicial system is systematically racist, places a disproportionate amount of Aboriginal children into third party mangement, and walks away from negotiated agreements with provincial and Aboriginal leaders. None of this is history, it’s what is happening today but I’m glad you learned to make bannock.

    I’m white, I’m male, I’m middle class, I’m abled and I’m privileged because of those things. Just because your sexual orientation means you are oppressed doesn’t meant other aspects of your person can make you the oppressor.

    Finally, as a settler colonialist I have benefited, my family has benefit my province has benefited and my country has benefited, in the case of my country to the tune of trillion of dollars because of the land that was acquired, in some cases with treaties and in others with legal magic from the Indigenous peoples that occupied it pre contact. Spending 3 hours a week, for 13 weeks in class that might give me a slightly different perspective is not nearly repayment but it’s, in my opinion, the least that we can do.

    • Gotcha. Your inherited blood guilt (or original sin, if you prefer) as a “settler colonialst” will be partly aussuaged by attending this course. But, just like when medieval man went to church, it only works if everybody has to go.

      And on those courses: yes, they were pre-requisites for graduation in the degree program you chose. Presumably, they had some connection to the subject matter. The English class, I suspect, had more to do with grammar than instruction in Shakespeare. Are you confident saying that taking an indigenous studies class is SO important that it needs to be imposed on all students? That every math, chemistry, physics, and economics major NEEDS this class in order to be a university graduate?

      That’s much closer to the old model of requiring students to take classes in western philosophy or literature because it was vital to know those subjects. It is quite the claim to make, and one that requires a lot of evidence. Seeing indigenous people as the most oppressed, as you argue above, isn’t exactly convincing. Would you not feel that the oppression of the poor, for example, is an equally strong narrative? And surely, you don’t mean to discount others’ oppression by privileging one perspective over another?

  43. As an Aboriginal Canadian, I admire Ms. Beaudin-Herney’s passion but don’t support her efforts to force all UofR (or any other university) students to take a mandatory indigenous studies course. It is a university’s responsibility to uphold academic and intellectual freedom. In doing so, Universities must remain neutral in matters related to politics, ideologies, and religion. Expose students to a variety of sources and viewpoints through electives in the humanities, arts, and social and natural sciences is an integral part of academic and intellectual freedom. However, forcing to take students to take a required course in an attempt to address a social concern is denying a student’s right to academic and intellectual freedom.

    I understand that Beaudin-Herney’s intent is to stymie systemic racism but forcing students to take a mandatory course in indigenous studies is not the answer. Other solutions are needed and other options, such as establishing a permanent forum outside of the classroom to foster the dialogue between administrators, faculty, and students, need to be explored.

  44. Please, do we have to listen and pay for this eternal whinning forever? Canada is a free country and if one wants to put in an elective native studies course…OK.
    I’m of catholic Irish dissent where my people came to Canada in extremely horrendous conditions and carved a hard life in a cold land. Interesting? maybe to some but if you want to study the subject matter then study it. If you want to throw taxpaying $$ at it then I say no!!
    Get over it my fellow and so politically correct Canadian colleagues; this constant complaining and finger pointing is becoming part of the Canadian character…a country of belly aching whiners!!!!!!! What a shame!!!!!!!!!!

  45. To me the purpose of this “mandatory” Indigenous Studies class is to fight systemic or institutional racism; it’s about changing academia. A mandatory course isn’t going to change anything because the majority of university administrators and professors in Canada are white, and their knowledge systems are embedded in colonial ideologies. We need to work on changing their perceptions and knowledge systems by engaging them in a dialogue about systemic racism. Or, increase the number of Aboriginal professors and leading administrators in academia.

  46. Trade affects all of us so we should all be required to take an economics class at university.

    Everyone needs gas and fuel so we should all be required to take a petroleum geology class at university.

    Elections affect everyone so we should all be required to take a political studies class at university.

    Crime affects all classes of society so we should all be required to take a criminal law class at university.

    Everyone uses roads and bridges so we all should be required to take a civil engineering class at university.

    Interest rates affects everyone’s ability to borrow or save money so we should all be required to take a finance class at university.

    Should I go on?

    In other words, there is an extremely wide variety of important lessons we should all understand, but unfortunately there are only so many resources and time to learn them. We have to able to decide for ourselves what we need to know in order to survive.

    University costs a lot of money (at least, for most of us). It’s meant for students to specialize in their education to help them prepare for their careers or vocations. Students have enough to worry about than whether one partiular niche of society or area of expertise is being taught or shared to another’s arbitrary satisfaction.

    High school is where everyone is required to attend. If the indigenous studies programs in high school are insufficient there, then beef them up, and more people with learn these lessons you all seem to find so valuable.

    University students are ostensibly adults, and they are perfectly capable of deciding into which courses or programs to invest their money. They should not be forced to spend money on anyhing they feel is unnecessary.

    (This propsal is especially hypocritical as much of what I learned from indigenous studies was how Europeans subjugated aboriginals, yet here we have our moral superiors trying to subjugate university students with their own values. Doctors, heal thyselves.)

  47. Mandatory indigenous studies course is a great idea! I think it’s about time we *canadians* be critical about what we learn and what we know about the nation’s history and reality so that we do not repeat the horrors native people have faced (and continue to do so, might i add).

    Common sense shows that there is something problematic about learning only about the colonizers’ histories and perspectives.

    And um… I think the so-called slippery slope effect is not as bad as you painted it out to be. Part of why racism exists in Canada is because of ignorance for people of colour and their histories in this country (LEST WE FORGET MACLEANS’ “TOO ASIAN”). Obviously, indigenous studies would be a great should be emphasized, however, I don’t see the problem of including other histories in Canada. I mean, we can certainly replace some of the current history courses offered in high school as the ones i took were horrible!

  48. This is a ridiculously dictator-like suggestion! To think that a person PAYING for courses would be coerced into studying any given politico-historical elective is beyond reasonable. It just promotes systemic racism.

  49. Fifty or sixty years ago, instruction in Western history and philosophy was mandatory at most universities in North America. It was felt that knowing those basics was fundamental to being an educated citizen in the Western world. Starting in the 1960s, the idea of mandatory content courses (as opposed to subject courses like English or a writing credit) began to decline. Why? Because it wasn’t needed. Because those things weren’t important to what a lot of students were studying. Because, especially after the rise of the new left, it was seen as a kind of imperialist brainwashing.

    I would challenge the supporters of the mandatory course in indigenous studies this way: given the importance of the western tradition in contemporary Canadian society, would you also support the imposition of a mandatory course in western history and philosophy?

    I can guarantee that no one is talking about Plato or Rousseau in elementary school. But Enlightenment ideas are key to understanding contemporary Canada, and its relationship with aboriginal peoples. Even Dr. Bourassa would surely agree that concepts of inherent individual rights (which extend to all people, by the way, not just aboriginals) are greatly shaped by the western project.

    Sorry, but unless you’re willing to recognize that there are other classes that have as much claim to being mandatory, it just looks like you’re trying to privilege your preferred narrative. The cry of “but it’s SO important” is no different then when universities made you take classes in the great books.

    • so much ideological white supreamcy in your comment. why can’t we understand Canada from an indigenous perspective? We do learn western histories and philosophy; it permeates our entire education system; to say that it does not is just a pathetic attempt to protect white supremacy. the colonial *preferred narrative* … is what is upheld by our education system and it causes a lot of damage.

      • Ooglie:

        Would you be interested in hearing a critical perspective of aboriginal historical scholarship? Or are you only interested in SOME kinds of criticism–you know, the kind that agrees with your prejudices?

        The “systemic” argument fascinates me: are you saying that because the system is a product of the Western tradition, you don’t actually need to learn anything about individual philosophies, histories, or people that made it? That you absorb it, sponge-like, from the world around you? That’s like saying because you exist in a world where light bulbs exist, you know they were invented.

        Sounds like you could use a little more exposure to Western logical traditions.

  50. As a Canadian of 69 years of age, I feel a need to respond to this question as well as stating its my right as a tax payer. Nobody can downplay the importance and contributions of the First Nations in Canada. Nobody can dispute the fact that the First Nations in Canada have not been victims of injustices.
    I doubt that there are any people who subscribe to newspapers or internet service are unaware of the constant claims and demands by the First Nations against the Federal Government, the Provincial Governments and others such as religious organizations for perceived wrongdoings. Maybe once in a blue moon it comes to light that something illegal, wrong is done by an organization or person of the First Nations and when it does all hell breaks loose and a million excuses are offered as to why it was alright and downright wrong to think otherwise. You want to now demand that indigenous studies be mandatory, then I submit that the admission that there is and has been wrong doing committed by individuals and groups within the indigenous community be admitted and also included in such a course. You can’t always have your cake and eat it too.

  51. Forced education … you mean like happened with residential schools?

    LOL … do you see the irony and hypocrisy?

    Also, try educating people in stuff they don’t want to be educated in … I’d hate to be the professor … ah, but I forget that if you challenge the politically correct narrative, they throw you out of universities … places where we are suppose to seek the truth. Now its imposed upon you …

    I guess the FN community did learn something in residential schools …

  52. I agree with Josh. No, I am not a racist/oppressor/whatever you want to call it; I severely condemn the violence and suffering targeted towards Aboriginals throughout history. I also want to be fair to those who disagree with Josh’s argument. As Josh states, he has learned extensively about Aboriginal history throughout his childhood and youth, as did I. However, as we see many comments on here, many people did not…which is why that has to change. Rather than requiring university students to take a course on Indigenous Studies in hopes they can be more educated about Aborignals, why can’t we make sure that ALL elementary and secondary schools get this kind of education? Teaching children at an early age about Indigenous history is much more effective in shaping their tolerance as opposed to seemingly “force” 18-22 year olds take a certain course. In my opinion, this shouldn’t be a mandatory university course to take – you should already know this stuff! If you’ve only learned very minimal Aboriginal history or none at all, your social studies teacher has largely failed you (this is one of the reasons why I think education should be very selective with teachers, but that’s a whole new topic for another day).

    The argument for that, however, seems to be, “Well, it’s not like you’re going to remember anything you’ve learned as a kid or a teenager, which is why you should learn it as an adult in university.” Right, so how are you going to prove that you’ll remember what you learned at 20 when you hit 40? Particularly in a course you only spent 3 months in?

    Meanwhile, while we’re learning Indigenous Studies to close the gap of discrimination, why don’t we take Environmental Studies so we can learn how to consume more efficiently? As well, every student should take Economics to gain an understanding of how the economy works, especially in tough economic times. We all need to take Health Science as well because obesity rates are on the rise. Computer Science should also be mandatory in our digital age. You get the idea.

    As we see here, almost EVERY course has its own good benefit. But we simply can’t cram it into everyone’s schedule. I feel terrible for saying it, but it’s impractical (despite its intention to not be) and it comes with a cost. Ultimately, we need to educate children and teenagers on the fundamentals of society so that they have enough understanding of the world before they pursue their own interests. I’m all for learning about Indigenous Studies, but do you really think forcing students to take a mandatory curriculum will make them more tolerate overnight? Shouldn’t learning about tolerance be more in an interactive environment rather than a lecture hall? We don’t need to change education, we just need to fix it.

  53. I agree with the writer. Forcing ‘education’ will not serve the FN well. There are many histories to study and some have been ignored in favour of the English-French and Judeo-Christians; e.g. women, gay /lesbian, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian (Kanakas), Indian, Acadians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians, Italians, Germans, and many others. Forcing FN history being taught will help to alienate FN students and culture.

    A panoply of electives over a range of years (say the four years of an under-graduate degree)would give students more choices, and interest in one course may lead to interest in another. Allow the students to take the courses in any order in any of the four years. Post-graduate courses could be more specialised.

    The young woman in question is trying to personalise her needs through public education. I feel for her, but it won’t work. Sorry.

    • Why the hell do we have to learn indian studies. As a university student trying to find a career in harsh economic times taking such a course would be completely useless!! Where in our modern lives is indian studies applicable, its only used in tiny number of government jobs. There all none or few job prospects that require indian studies!! Why do we need to take this course mandatory in university or in high school when its not applicable to a large majority 99% to the students future adult lives?!?

  54. Here we go again. One has to wonder why asking for Indigneous history to be privileged brings out such incredible resistance. The history of other ethnic/cultural groups in Canada is not the history of Indigenous people in Canada. Indigenous people have the unique history of being colonized.
    Oh wait, that is still going on so it really isn’t history, is it. Josh is unusual in that few people know an accurate version of Canada’s colonial history – it has been overshadowed by a very White, European lens that wants us all to continue to believe that Indigenous people were brutal savages running around just waiting for the great White saviour to come and civilize/Christianize them. I am sorry, but learning how to make Bannock does not put one in a position to say they now know everything there is to know about the daily experiences Indigenous people have with White racism. Josh’s own article is a poster-presentation for the kinds of micro-aggressions we White Canadians perpetrate on Indigenous people every single day. Denying the racism doesn’t mean there isn’t racism. How could White people ever be positioned to be able to recognize racism? We do not experience it on any level in this country. We are truly privileged with holding all of the power to deny Aboriginal people their humanity – they do not hold such power to deny ours.
    Indigenous cultural competency courses are necessary to ensure Canadians of all ages learn the truth about our shared history. Yes, racialized people from other countries do experience racism and discrimination here – while simultaneously contributing to the ongoing colonization of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Not sure you agree? Who gets to own land in this country? Aboriginal people? Nope. Land that was never ceded in some areas is owned by everyone but Aboriginal people. Land that was ceded through treaty agreement has never been paid for. That is what Canadians need to learn. Bannock? Give me a break Josh.

  55. You know, children of all races have been forced to learn a very White European version of history for 100’s of years – one might call this ‘mandatory’ learning. Where is the outcry about this? The lone voice is from Indigenous people like Julianne who had to experience that version of history like a form of violence perpetrated on her everyday she was in school. Congratulations for surviving that gaunlet Julianne.
    Why is it White people always interpret this form of de-colonizing as an assault on them? I heard a great quote just on Friday: “resolution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction indeed implies the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class. However, the restraints imposed by the former oppressed on the oppressors, so that the latter cannot resume their former position, do not constitute oppression. An act is only oppressive when it prevents people from being more fully human”…… “Acts which prevent the restoration of the oppressive regime cannot be compared with those which create and maintain it…..”.

    Paulo Friere-Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p38/39

    We all need this type of course.If for no other reason than to sort out our roles as the oppressor vs the oppressed…

  56. @AdamG my English 100 class is poetry and short stories. The assumption is made that you have the grammar skills necessary already. Point is there are plenty of required classes every degree. University isn’t just pick whatever you want to take and build your own degree. And don’t worry, I learned about the enlightenment in almost all of my humanities amd social science courses. University provide ample opportunity to study the old white men that you correctly point out have had such an influnential place in the European project. John Locke and his “enlightened theories” led to the dispossession of colonized people’s throughout the world.

    The point is to provide a counter narrative than the dominant narrative that you rely so heavily on

  57. Since when does making bannock bread help an individual understand complex issues like oppression, violence, treaty agreements and cultural genocide? To claim sufficient knowledge of colonization based on a few sporatic experiences is like saying I understand GLBTQ issues because I had a conversation with a lesbian once. I think we can all agree that people and history are much more complex than that.
    Regardless if you are First Nations or of European descent we are all still shaped by the process of colonization, some as colonizers and others as the colonized. I would hope through all your “various history” classes that you would have at least noticed that there is an epistemological privilege that is granted to those who tell a nation’s history. Furthermore, several sources should be examined to get an accurate sense of any historical event as well as maintain academic integrity. I view Julianne’s proposal as an opportunity to hear voices from Candian history that have been lost , silenced and marginalized.
    Canada needs to acknowledge its white policy past and make a space for Indigenous voices. There is significant healing that needs to occur and all Canadians need to be open and part of that process for any meaningful dialogue to occur. Gandhi once said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wish to be part of that change and have signed the petition to do so.

  58. “A mandatory class is a slippery slope.”

    This man obviously did not take Logic 100/Philosophy 150.

    Announcing the logical fallacy you’re about to employ does not make it any less fallacious.

    You can educate public school students as much as you want on First Nations issues, but the majority of Saskatchewan students come from households with very outdated and bigoted views toward First Nations. Often these views are based upon false information.
    For those who have been raised this way, it is better to recieve some of this education when they are finally away from an environment that, whether intentionally or not, fosters bigotry and hatred.

    The anonymous defacement of these petitions with swastikas and written threats and racial slurs only provides more evidence that such a course requirement should be implemented.

    I also saw in the comments that this is “forced education” comparable to that of residential schools. If widespread allegations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by Indigenous Studies Instructors comes forward, I will pay the reparations owed personally and say no more about this petition.

    No intelligent person would deny that there is a social problem in Saskatchewan and most of Canada between Aboriginals and Non-Aboriginals. Time and again, these problems are exasperated by ignorance, both of history and of current affairs. Generally the best cure for ignorance is education.

  59. Interesting comments and viewpoints previously posted.

    I always assumed everyone is racist, to one degree or another.

    Ultimately, the various universities will decide what is optional and what is mandatory. For myself, I would like a little book that I could read from each group (that would care to write one), on what I should know about them. With 7,000 information clips a day, I really do not know if I understand correctly if First Nations want the Indian Act or not (suspect some do and some don’t), so, it would be nice to have a book from someone representing them.

    I think Josh missed out on many possible groups who could write some books and provide us with more of a common understanding (maybe a “Dummies” (yellow book) for cultural understanding series).

    Have a great day everyone.

    Let’s be the best we can be.

  60. As someone who has lived in Saskatchewan my entire life, I want you to know that I was not properly educated on Aboriginal history and issues. I briefly studied Louis Riel in Grade 5.

    My experience is not unique.

    I understand why you find the imposition of a course would lead to resentment. However, you have only presented your criticisms thus far. You stated that you are “not convinced it would lead to a better relationship between Canada’s diverse communities.” I would like to hear your alternative to fostering understanding in our “multicultural” society.

    Thank you for the discussion. I’m excited to hear from you!

  61. You know, if the courses were made useful and interesting, and sold, rather than made mandatory (forced), and if Non-aboriginals were made to feel welcome and invited into them, it would be much better…. And more people would want to take the courses!

    Tell me I cannot have booze, or tobacco, or a Hummer, or “Mary-Jane”… and that is the first thing I want. Force the dammed broccoli down my throat when I am 5 years old, and I will not eat it when I am 35 years old… or 65 years old!

    But that’s thinking I got from my Commerce and History Profs, and the one Psych guy I talked to, occasionally. But they were all ignoramuses! Ignore them!

    Or…. you could make an A+ in your whatever course 100% mandatory, or the student looses credit for all 4 or 5 years of education. Heck! Strip them of their High school degree, too! Of course, if you did that, think what a wonderful society you would have!

  62. This article is really painful. As settlers in a country which is still colonizing its indigenous people, are you really going to talk about how unfair it is to have to sit through one class that will give an indigenous perspective on history in Canada? In a country where Indigenous women go missing and are murdered more than any other population? Since you are so keen on comparisons; if gay men were going missing at the rate that Indigenous women are, would you be less arrogant and insensitive? This writing that is passed off as journalism, seems to me nothing more than a very poorly done opinion column.

  63. Wow! Sounds like John really needed to take a mandatory Indigenous class during his Journalism degree. This is a perfect example of why such a class is needed. In fact perhaps Macleans would do well to put him in a class so he can learn a little bit about colonialism and colonialist language. Or more specifically… how not to be a racist dick. Although that’s maybe his point – perhaps he wants to build controversy so as to get more hits on this article, in which case not only is is a terrible opinion piece, he’s a pretty shoddy journalist too.

    John, I would recommend reading a bit more about Indigenous history and the story of Indigenous in this country. Folks like you give us a bad name.

  64. There were *never* any residential schools in the city Timmins. As an “Aboriginal” person myself, what was taught in elementary curriculum to me, and especially in high school DID NOT ADEQUATELY teach me anything at all. “First Nations” itself, does not teach you about the people.

  65. And just to state the fact, I did not have the *free choice* to learn about my people in the education curriculum neither in elementary nor high school. So YAY for the mandatory course, at least it is a step.

  66. This is an excellent article – it gave me lots of food for thought. The only thing I can contribute to the conversation is that I was witness to the changes in the workplace brought about by government regulations that forced businesses to hire and promote and, indeed, pay women and minority groups more in line with white men (I say “in line” as things are still not equal!). It was only when they were forced to do this that they had a chance to see what great workers they’d been ignoring and we now see much more diversity in the workplace and communities. This wouldn’t have happened without this legislation. Unfortunately, unless we force the broader society to learn about and understand and thus accept our indigenous communities, it might never happen.

  67. Very interesting article. I was lucky to have high school teachers who taught a curriculum that had a strong focus on indigenous studies (not just in history class). When I came to university and took an indigenous studies class, many of the topics that I had learned had already been covered in high school. I think that the government should regulate and expand their middle school/high school indigenous studies curriculum, this way EVERYONE is subjected to it and it becomes the norm.

    Furthermore, I think that if you are forced to take something in university, you might not get as much out of it. I know that I didn’t get much out of the mandatory classes that I had to take. I’d do the bare minimum to pass because I didn’t feel passionate about it. While i’d like to say that making this mandatory in university will help solve Canada’s racism problem, I feel like more change will occur if we shift our focus onto the Indigenous studies curriculum taught throughout K-12.

  68. If one is thought to have been coerced into Native studies, that dear kind people is a true indication of the level of racism evident within one’s self. Bias is indicated by aversions to opposing views. It can not be explained any simpler.

    • Seriously? There is a big difference between having something offered as a course vs being told said course is mandatory. If it does nothing for the educational goal of a person, then why take it? Prejudice is a state of mind. Period.

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  70. OK so Indigenous Studies are taught from K – Grade 12. It is to the exclusion of all other Historical events within the world. And so, the Indigenous population is rising. That is because more and more do not live isolated from the rest of Canadian population. More and more Indigenous persons are not totaly Indigenous. In fact, it would be very hard pressed to find very many persons within our entire country who are 100% Indigenous. Although I agree that this is an important class to be taught to those in history, I do not see it as important for EVERYONE! It will not teach anybody anything of import. But what it will do is teach people that the Native population within our country are “different”. Does anybody really want that? I really really hope not. There already is enough prejudice that exists already. And not just against Native persons, but towards anybody that does not fit into a prejudiced person’s idea of “normal”. This, of course, includes gays, blacks, east Indians, Chinese, Japanese, those with British accents, French accents, Italians, Russians……….and the list goes on and on and on. What is needed in our country, to reduce prejudice, is to de-emphasize differences. To have all persons treated absolutely the same, in every manner and in every facet within our society. PERIOD!! Oh, and Engineering students? They are but one type of student who has a highly reduced ability to take electives. Nursing students, those working on their BScN, they are in the same boat. But the Nursing students vicariously learn the various different needs of persons from many countries, backgrounds, societies, etc. Why? because they must look after persons “Holistically”, taking into account their beliefs and rituals, etc etc etc.

  71. I can see a course in Aboriginal history and culture being mandatory for all students of social work, medicine, nursing, law and journalism because they will, at some level, be working with aboriginal clients, however, I think it should be a choice for students that are going into fields that have no potential to oppress any person or culture.

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  73. You didn’t mention one of fhe most obvious reasons for not making it compulsary – many people who are not racist neanderthals don’t feel land claims are valid. Personally I don’t believe that picking out one specific wrong in “white” history to apologize for is insane. Aboriginals are not the only group in the last 1,000 years or so that was unfairly treated by history – but do-overs are not being given to them.
    Mostly it’s allegedly about being ashamed of actions of the past by others. I may find such actions regrettable and sad, even horrific, but that doesn’t mean I have anything to feel guilty aboutor to compensate people for. I waan’t even alive at the time.
    Canada’s natives are obsessed with then way history should have been if not for early European explorers….but that’s more absurdity. There is no “should have been” or ” “was meant to be”. History is what it is – if it happened then it was meant to happen. The arrival of Europeans was neither appropriate or inappropriate, it just was. It doesn’t need a judgement qualifier.
    I can never support land claims because they iolate my belief in true equal treatment with no regard to race, ethnicity, politics, relifion or sexual orientation. They are a politically correct and politically motivated mistake that we will all regret

  74. Yeah I have Acadian ancestry, where’s my course. Not to mention my tax breaks, special treatment, grants and scholarships based on my ancestry or stuff that happened before I was born etc etc.
    If we want to solve issues in the aboriginal community, why don’t we stop calling it “the aboriginal community”? Why don’t we stop treating Canadians differently based on the color of their skin? Why don’t we abolish any special priveleges or benefits for ANYONE that are based on the color of their skin or their heritage or their naughty bits or their religion or their sexuality. Why don’t we treat everybody the same. I don’t care if I’m labelled racist anymore, I need to speak up so that more people who share my viewpoint are less afraid to speak up themselves.

    I see a marked difference in the native people that I’ve met who’ve grown up in reserves vs. the ones who grew up in public schools in the same neighborhoods as I did. There’s a deep entitlement mentality going on, not to mention a host of other problems that all say at heart “you owe me”. No. No, no one owes you anything. Being Acadian, my ancestors were persecuted, deported, murdered etc. as well. The differece is I don’t expect a handout or special treatment for it. If I want to live like my primitive ancestors did or I want to live on the land where they lived, then I’d go there, and I wouldn’t expect any special help or treatment or expect anybody else to get educated about “my people’s plight” or “my people’s history” and I would be horrified if someone wanted to FORCE them to do that.

    Wanna solve the problem, want to get native literacy up, native employment rates up, native alcoholism down? Integrate the native population into the rest of the Canadian population and stop treating them differently in every way. Treat ALL Canadians the same. No special land, no tax breaks, no special laws, none of that crap. Suppot equality of opportunity, not (the attempted) equality of outcome. Giving someone special priveleges (based on stuff that happened before they were even born no less) based on the color of their skin IS RACIST. Saying something about it, calling a spade a spade and suggesting that we all be treated equal, is not. But like I said, I don’t care if I’m called racist anymore or told to “check my privelege” (The only priveleges I see certainly aren’t given to straight white males like myself), name-calling and character assasination is a tactic of someone who’s argument has no leg to stand on. If you feel the same way, get over your fear of being judged and start speaking up, because nothing will change unless you do.

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