Commentary  Indigenous awareness: No ‘minor’ issue


From the founders’ appropriation of Native land to build this university, to the ongoing investments in the exploitative companies underwriting Le nord pour tous (“North for All”) – a resource exploitation program in Northern Quebec – McGill has a continual history of colonial appropriation. In the midst of this colonial history, this past week marked the third annual Indigenous Awareness Week at McGill, celebrating Indigenous culture in Canada.

Organized by the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office’s Indigenous Education Program, the Awareness Week is an incredible opportunity for the McGill community to gain awareness of First Peoples’ issues. However, Indigenous Awareness Week and the McGill Pow Wow (which is entering its 12th year) have a short history on campus – symptomatic of an institutional failure on the part of the University to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous issues and its complicity in creating a culture of erasure.

Knowledge and awareness of Indigenous issues should not be limited to one week of the year – it should be a constant presence. Advocates have been working on instating an Indigenous Studies minor at McGill since the early 2000s, and the process appears close to resolution, as the program is currently under review by the McGill administration. Such progress is indeed encouraging; however, the fact that it has taken the University so long to institute an Indigenous Studies program is shameful.

Other universities in Canada have long-running versions of Indigenous studies programs. The University of Toronto instated its program in 1994, and since 2001, the University of British Columbia has offered an interdisciplinary major that includes topics such as Indigenous feminism, Aboriginal politics, and oral history. Here in Montreal, Concordia’s Aboriginal Student Resource Centre maintains a far more central location on its campus than McGill’s First Peoples’ House, increasing its visibility to the population at large. McGill’s programs that do feature Indigenous-related content often relegate that content to seminars or special topics courses, rather than as part of a core curriculum.

This passivity toward the official implementation of a visible Indigenous presence on campus should not be considered the fault of activists, but rather an institutional failure on the part of the University. The Indigenous Studies minor is in the works, and will be a significant step forward for the McGill community. Advocates hope for a major program a few years after the inception of the minor, which would do more to emphasize the importance of Indigenous issues here at McGill.

The progress shouldn’t stop there – nor will it. Many have already taken it upon themselves to mobilize for the minor program, and the success of Indigenous Awareness Week reflects the strength of such advocates. For those who missed this past week’s events, or who wish to further their awareness of Indigenous issues, plentiful resources exist. Indigenous media is active in our communities, including the Kanata journal at McGill, the Native Solidarity News Collective at CKUT, and others. There are also on-campus groups, such as the First Peoples’ House and SEDE’s Indigenous Education Program. While bureaucracy and institutional failure may hinder the awareness of Indigenous history and culture, the McGill community should nevertheless take it upon ourselves to become more informed.

—The McGill Daily Editorial Board