Commentary  Indigenous Studies gains momentum

AUS’ support for the creation of an Indigenous Studies program at McGill

Endcap appended November 18, 2013.
Indigenous Access McGill added to list of collaborators November 23, 2013.

At the October 30 session of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council, the AUS adopted a stance of support for the development of an Indigenous Studies program at McGill. The AUS endorses the proposal for a Minor Concentration in Indigenous Studies that is currently undergoing the approval process, as well as both the expected expansion into a Major Concentration and the creation of a Chair in Indigenous Studies. The AUS Equity Commissioners have also expressed their enthusiastic support of these goals.

The AUS recognizes and affirms the necessity of offering an Indigenous Studies program at McGill. Given our location on traditional Haudenosaunee territory, we have a responsibility to support the growth and understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, worldviews, languages, traditions, histories, contemporary realities, and cultures. An Indigenous Studies program will provide the opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to engage in this process, and support the resurgence of Indigenous cultures and peoples. We hope the development of an Indigenous Studies program will be a positive step in McGill’s relationship with the traditional keepers of the land and Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, and contribute to building an accessible environment for current and prospective Indigenous students, faculty, and staff.

The push from students and community members for an Indigenous Studies program has been long-standing. Now, after several years of dedicated efforts by KANATA: McGill’s Indigenous Studies Community, Allan Vicaire and the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office, the Aboriginal Law Students’ Association, the Indigenous Student Alliance, First Peoples’ House, the Aboriginal Affairs Working Group, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), Indigenous Access McGill, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and many others, the program is closer than ever to fruition.

With the report completed earlier this year by SSMU Student Researcher Brett Lamoureux based on the extensive consultation process facilitated by the aforementioned students and staff, and the faculty support provided by Will Straw, Director of MISC, a full proposal for a Minor Concentration was submitted to, and approved by, the Faculty of Arts Curriculum Committee on November 11.

The program will be facing the next stage of approval at the November 26 meeting of the Faculty of Arts Curriculum Committee. Although several steps of Senate-level approval will follow this meeting, supportive attendance at the November 26 meeting is welcome. The AUS hopes to see the proposal reach the necessary deadlines of committee approval for the Minor to be offered to students by the 2014 Fall semester.

Indigenous Studies programs have been long-standing features in many other peer institutions. With establishment dates beginning in 1969 to 1982 to just this year, Concordia University, University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, and University of British Columbia are among the many major Canadian universities with successful programs in the field. McGill’s addition to this list is long overdue. Independent of the precedent set by peer institutions, McGill has an obligation to provide Indigenous students the opportunity to use academic channels to learn about their own peoples from an approach grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing, and a responsibility to facilitate more informed, respectful understandings between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples whenever possible. The AUS supports the fulfilling of these responsibilities as soon as possible.

Niá:wen to all of the groups and individuals behind reaching this stage in the proposal process.

The next meeting of the Faculty of Arts Curriculum Committee takes place on November 26, at 3 p.m. in Leacock 232.

Jacob Greenspon (AUS VP Academic) and Claire Stewart-Kanigan (Arts Senator) write on behalf of AUS Legislative Council, and can be reached at