Students in conjunction with the Society for Equity and Diversity in Education Office (SEDE), have been navigating through administrative red tape since September in the hopes that in the coming years, McGill will offer a First Peoples minor.
Pamela Fillion, U3 anthropology and a Daily staff writer, who is spearheading the effort, explained that by lobbying for a minor instead of a major, they avoided having to secure approval from the Quebec Minister of Education. Further, because the minor would be interdisciplinary and capitalize on existing resources in already-established departments, it would create little financial strain on McGill.
“Student interest is already there [for the minor] and a lot of professors are knowledgeable [about First Nations issues]. We really think this is something that could happen. There is a sentiment that this is doable,” Fillion said.
When Fillion circulated a survey sheet in three small classes focusing on First Nations, she gathered more than 50 signatures. She also participated in producing KANATA- McGill Undergraduate Journal on Indigenous Peoples of North America, McGill’s first-ever journal on First Nations issues. Fillion saw the journal as a telling barometer for interest in the potential minor program.
“The biannual KANATA journal proves there is enough material being produced at McGill by students who are interested in First Nations issues,” she said.
Catherine Duclos, U3 anthropology, who worked as the Publication and Finance editor for KANATA, looked forward to the possibility of a minor at McGill.
“There’s a high level of interest for International Development Studies and going abroad to volunteer and to help. [The First Nations minor] would acknowledge that our own country isn’t perfect,” Duclos said.
There is currently no aboriginal studies program on campus, though students have compensated for its absence by pursuing “ad-hoc” or independent Arts degrees focused on indigenous studies.
“I’ve taken several courses about First Nations and there are always five or six students [in the class] trying to create [a First Nations minor] for themselves,” Fillion said.
Presently, all aboriginal course content can be found in the “First Nations and Inuit Education programs” in the Faculty of Education, at the “Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment” at Macdonald Campus, or sporadically across course listings in the Faculties of Arts and Law. Currently no program akin to the programs across Canada exists at McGill.
Morton Mendleson, Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) and former chair of the working group, explained that any plans drafted by the group would rely on government funding, and would take a long time to go through the necessary bureaucracy.
Mendelson agreed on the importance of promoting aboriginal education.
“[Education] must play a central role in alleviating problems in aboriginal communities, so there is a social responsibility for institutions like McGill to contribute as best as it can.”
Mendelson, though, would not confirm his support for an aboriginal studies program at McGill, as “it is not up to the central administration, but a choice of the local level.”
After seven years of planning and coordination, Concordia University is also finally approaching its final administrative hurdles before its First Nations major can be implemented.
Daniel Salée, a political science professor at Concordia and central architect of the program, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the program because the proposal will be “a first for Quebec.”
However, the province is still behind the times – over the past 40 years, First Peoples, aboriginal, indigenous, and native studies programs have become well established across Canada with the establishment of faculties, programs, and degrees aimed to analyze and address the dynamics between indigenous people and European settlers.
Salée blamed the proposal’s tardiness on the mindset of Quebec’s population as a whole.
“Aboriginal reality is abstract, far away in the north and outside of the mind of Quebeckers,” he said.
Aboriginal presence on campus is low at McGill. Lynn Fletcher of the First Peoples House estimated that the total number of aboriginal students at McGill amounts to less than 300, or one per cent of McGill’s student body, although exact numbers are always difficult to ascertain. The University also only employs two full-time aboriginal professors.
with files from Shannon Kiely