Though the push for a mandatory Native Studies course created controversy online a few weeks ago, the discussion has been ongoing in student governance.
On February 3, an Overheard at the University of Alberta post introduced a student group that advocating for a mandatory Native Studies course requirement. The tentative requirement would require students across campus to have some sort of indigenous education. Proposals for such requirements have varied on whether the requirement would be university-wide or faculty-specific.
The student group in the online post declined to comment on the issue. However, Native Studies councillor Nathan Sunday said a course requirement for all students on campus in indigenous history would help combat stereotypes, increase sensitivity to indigenous students on campus, and improve reconciliation.
“Students are on Treaty 6 land, and it’s just very important to acknowledge that,” Sunday said. “People think Aboriginal people just get free education, they’re all drunks, but it’s not the case, and that’s exactly why we need these courses.”
Arts councillor Victoria DeJong argued that even students who won’t be working in indigenous communities after their degree should still understand the history of where they live, and understand how colonial attitudes still impact their lives. She agreed with Sunday that education about indigenous people is insufficient.
“I was shocked when I found out that the last residential school closed the year I was born,” she said. “I don’t think that the history of violence is really understood. And I don’t mean that in a patronizing way, I just think that the education system has failed indigenous people, and all people in Canada.”
Certain faculties, such as Engineering, have raised concerns about a mandatory course requirement, explained Engineering councillor Brandon Prochnau. He expressed concerns about the cost a mandatory course would bring to Engineering students.
“If I get another mandatory course in there, it costs me another $800,” Prochnau said.
In comparison, Arts and Sciences courses cost around $500 per course.
Sunday says that within his faculty, students are supportive of the proposal to implement a mandatory Native Studies requirement across the university.
“People think it’s combatting the stereotypes, learning the histories, learning that Canada itself would not be here if it wasn’t for aboriginal people,” Sunday said. “And so they want to convey that, they want people to know this.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated had engineering councillor Brandon Prochnau state “the problem that we have right now is that if we were to put a new course in, it would make us not accredited with APEGA (the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta.)” According to APEGA, a potential mandatory Native Studies course will not prevent engineering students from being licensed with APEGA.