It’s not enough to simply sprinkle a few Indigenous perspectives into the classroom; instructors often have to unlearn the colonial myths they have been taught about Indigenous Peoples and Canada.
The learning and unlearning will become part of new academic-development modules co-led by Candace Brunette-Debassige, professor in the Faculty of Education (former special advisor to the provost) in collaboration with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and the Centre for Teaching and Learning.
This unique academic development work is being supported by a Commonwealth Peace and Reconciliation Challenge Grant from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), a new, and rare, fund awarded to Brunette-Debassige (an ACU member) to support initiatives advancing peace, reconciliation and Indigenous knowledge.
Intended to be one-hour introductory online lessons for course instructors, the two modules under development will provide Western educators with a unique look at the need to decolonize and Indigenize university curriculum, Brunette-Debassige said. The first of these modules is being drafted in collaboration with Huron University College historian Thomas Peace.
“Universities are finally starting to realize that there’s a deep gap in Indigenous perspectives in our curriculum across disciplines. There’s an urgent need to bring diverse Indigenous perspectives into the conversation.”
Western sits on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Chonnocton Peoples.
In adopting and implementing its first Indigenous Strategic Plan, Western has committed to making Indigenous perspectives, knowledges and research a priority in all aspects of its operations.
“We need to understand colonialism happened and continues to happen. It’s not a historical event. I want people to understand how colonialism continues to be produced in our curriculum choices in ways we don’t always realize,” said Brunette-Debassige.
Challenging and changing the current model of education requires a deeper understanding of colonial roots and ideologies.
“If we understand the lineage of our education system, it’s a global imperialistic and Eurocentric model. It actually has been transplanted here and imposed on Indigenous people and presented as universal –Euro-Western perspectives are often positioned as superior to non-European knowledges – while Indigenous knowledges have been ignored or delegitimized in our system.”
Indigenizing the curriculum involves the naturalization of Indigenous knowledges – accepting that Indigenous peoples have complex and diverse knowledges. However, many people have to first unlearn colonial myths about Indigenous peoples before they can open up to Indigenous perspectives. This is partly because the education system has often either misrepresented Indigenous peoples as ‘Other’ or omitted their authoring voices from the curriculum altogether, Brunette-Debassige said.
Expected to be available to instructors in summer 2022, the modules will challenge the “historical amnesia” that is often entrenched in curriculum, and offer ways to address Indigenous/settler relations, showing how these relations are founded on living treaty agreements that can help us co-exist with each other and with the land.
Ultimately, the modules will help instructors understand how Canada’s colonial legacy has left its deep footprint on today’s political, economic and educational systems; and introduce them to steps they can take to decolonize themselves, their syllabuses, and begin creating more authentic space for Indigenous perspective in the university classroom, Brunette-Debassige said.
Western’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives offers a growing number of educational resources for students, staff and faculty available on its website.