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Are B.C.'s public universities, colleges considering a mandatory Indigenous Studies course?

Earlier this month, an East Coast university made an Indigenous Studies course a mandatory graduation requirement.
The reconciliation pole at the UBC Vancouver campus.

Earlier this month, the University of Prince Edward Island made it mandatory that all incoming graduating students complete a course in Indigenous Studies.

Of the nearly dozen public universities in British Columbia Glacier Media spoke to, none have the same requirement. Staff, however, did point to a number of Indigenous courses on offer. None of the schools interviewed for this story said a similar proposal to the East Coast university was being considered at this time.

At the K-12 level, students across B.C. will soon be required to learn about Indigenous history as part of a new graduate requirement. Expected to take effect in the 2023-24 school year, this requirement will ensure all secondary students complete Indigenous-focused coursework before graduating from Grade 12. 

The new requirement applies to all students in B.C.'s public, independent and offshore schools. British Columbia is the first Canadian province and jurisdiction to implement this type of requirement.

Below is a list of responses from the 10 colleges and universities Glacier Media heard back from.

Camosun College

Camosun doesn't have a specific course; instead, there are “several programs” that have Indigenous content that are required for graduation from specific programs.

"We are unable to speculate on future programming. As a community college, we offer programs designed especially for Indigenous learners plus a wide variety of courses with Indigenous content and a strong engagement with community,” says marketing and communications strategist Jonathan Ruhl.

The courses that require Indigenous content include:

  • Ways of Indigenous Leadership and Learning
  • Education Assistant and Community Support
  • Criminal Justice
  • Mental Health and Addictions
  • Medical Lab Assistant; and
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography. 

Capilano University

Some programs at Capilano require Indigenous courses, but there is no set course required to graduate for all students. 

"Currently, we are deeply invested in the work of decolonizing and Indigenizing both education and our campuses with a focus on First Nations language, culture and knowledge,” says a university spokesperson, noting the schools uses a holistic approach.

The spokesperson said staff are reviewing and re-developing course curriculum and focusing on Indigenization of their practices, policies and procedure across the university.

"This approach offers students the ability to learn course material from an Indigenous lens and the opportunity to benefit from life-transforming experiences. An example of this integrated approach is our university-wide land school/water school framework, currently under development, that will allow any course to be delivered in an Indigenous context."

Capilano University offers language and culture certificate programs within the Sechelt Nation and Lil’wat Nation that focus on preserving and strengthening the language and culture of those nations.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University 

Kwantlen Polytechnic University does not require students to take a specific course to graduate. 

David Burns, associate vice-president, academic, tells Glacier Media the university has been preparing a long-term strategic plan to support the decolonization and Indigenization of the school, and "to address and reduce the ongoing systemic colonialism, oppression and racism that Indigenous peoples continue to experience."

It's important that reconciliation take place in each community, connected to local nations, partners and lands, he says.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has just this year created a new Indigenous Studies Department within the faculty of arts, and added new Indigenous Studies courses. The university recently hired a new senior leader dedicated to Indigenous leadership, innovation and partnerships. 

"We look forward to publication of the strategic plan as we continue along the path of reconciliation," says Burns. 

Okanagan College

Indigenous studies are woven into “all aspects of the college” but there is no requirement for students to take a specific course to graduate. 

"Okanagan College has pledged, as part of the Inspire Strategic Plan responsibilities, to weave Indigenous world views into all aspects of college life as part of our journey toward reconciliation,” says Simone Blais, marketing and communications specialist with the school.

There are specific programs featuring Indigenous content, such as language training (applied bachelor of arts) or traditional ways of knowing and/or doing (partner-led intakes for trades and apprenticeship, culinary arts and health and social development). 

"Okanagan College remains committed to working with, listening to and learning from Indigenous communities throughout this journey," says Blais. 

Simon Fraser University

There is not an Indigenous Studies course as a mandatory prerequisite for graduation at SFU. 

In a written statement, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) president Helen Sofia Pahou says the society fully supports implementing similar changes to the University of Prince Edward Island. 

"In times where we carry the heavy truths and realities behind the genocide of Indigenous people(s) through the residential school system, and the traumatic impact of systemic harms against Indigenous communities created under the framework of colonialism, the SFSS believes that having an Indigenous Studies course requirement for post-secondary graduation is the bare minimum."

SFU does offer Indigenous Studies courses as part of its Indigenous Studies program.

"In the meantime, the SFSS understands and respects the need for more knowledge to become available for undergraduate students regarding Indigenous history, and the need for more support for self-identified First Nations, Métis and Inuit students who are a part of our undergraduate membership,” says Pahou. 

Thompson Rivers University 

Thompson Rivers University is not requiring an Indigenous Studies course to graduate but says all baccalaureate degree programs include Indigenous content.

Michele Young, TRU's manager of communications, says students will have to complete an academic course that meets the Indigenous Knowledges and Ways outcome as part of the university’s commitment to honour truth, reconciliation and rights of Indigenous peoples.

University of British Columbia

UBC does not have a mandatory Indigenous Studies course required for students to graduate. 

"Rather, we work with individual faculties to identify opportunities and provide resources/tool kits for them to advance Indigenous education through materials unique to their units,” says director of university affairs Matthew Ramsey. 

He adds UBC is guided through an Indigenous Strategic Plan that was developed by the voices of Indigenous faculty and staff who have advocated strongly for UBC’s “contextual approach.” 

University of the Fraser Valley

UFV does not require students to enrol in Indigenous Studies.

Dave Pinton, director of communications, says Indigenization and reconciliation are central to UFV’s core mission and values.

"The university is seeking the Indigenization of all courses and programs rather than marginalizing this obligation to only those who teach Indigenous studies,” he says in an email.

A major and minor in Indigenous Studies is offered at the university along with certificates in Indigenous StudiesStó:lõ StudiesIndigenous Arts and Indigenous Maps, Flims, Rights, and Land Claims

UFV also offers an intermediate proficiency associate certificate, an advanced proficiency certificate, a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma in Halq'eméylem, the traditional language of the Stó:lō people. The social service worker diploma is also available with an Indigenous focus.

University of Northern British Columbia

UNBC also doesn't have the requirement.

Matt Wood, director of communications and marketing, says over the years multiple academic programs have built Indigenous-focused studies into their curriculum. 

“At UNBC, we are focusing on Indigenizing curriculum more broadly, an effort that is based on the program content and student needs,” he says. 

In health sciences, education and nursing, multiple Indigenous courses are embedded as core content. In the social work program, a specific introductory module on the impact of residential schools is incorporated as required content.

"UNBC continues to evaluate and update its programming, particularly regarding Indigenizing the curriculum,” says Wood. 

University of Victoria

There is no required Indigenous Studies course at the University of Victoria.

Elizabeth Croft, vice-president academic and provost at UVic, states in an email the university is dedicated to actively supporting faculty, instructors and staff to decolonize their curricula and other academic offerings, including through Indigenous and anti-racism grants.

“We have provided reports on our progress on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and articles of the United Nations Declaration (UN Declaration) on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at public post-secondary institutions in B.C.,” says Croft.

Programs at the university, such as human and social development, are working towards including an Indigenous Studies course and a land-based course as part of their degree program.

Students, staff and faculty are “encouraged" to take Indigenous cultural acumen training. The training supports the ongoing work of "making UVic a better place for Indigenous students and community members," and, by extension, for all students, faculty and staff.