On the heels of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, first-year Ivey students are on a journey to increase their understanding of Indigenous cultures, knowledges, and the legacies of settler colonialism in Canada, including the Indian Residential School system.
Through the Learning Through Action course, 624 students began a new, on-demand educational program, The Path: Your Journey Through Indigenous Canada, created by Indigenous consulting company NVision Insight Group. The six-hour program has five modules covering:
- The cultural and historical differences between First Nations, Inuit and Métis
- The evolution of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people
- Stories of social and economic success, reconciliation and resilience
- Understanding intercultural communication in the workplace.
The students respond to reflection questions after each module.
The program is a collaboration between Ivey and Western’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives, which is licensed to offer the program to Western students, faculty and staff. Ivey’s participation marks the first time The Path has been used in Western’s student programming. Sara Mai Chitty, curriculum and pedagogy advisor, Office of Indigenous Initiatives, has been consulting with Ivey on ways to work Indigenous pedagogical approaches and knowledges into the curriculum.
“(The Path’s) very basic introduction, online format makes it easy to do on your own time. You can do standalone modules or the full program. It’s something to support faculty who might not be comfortable with the material, or even know it themselves,” she said. “It’s really helpful in getting people to have a basic understanding of Indigenous history in Canada because we know it’s not taught in public school.”
Chitty is arranging for Indigenous community members to engage with the students following the module on residential schools. It will be an opportunity for further reflection and to be introduced to the Indigenous pedagogical approach.
“We teach through telling stories. They’ll hear from community members and share their thoughts and unpack a bit of the frustration, embarrassment and shame that a lot of people feel when they learn about these things for the first time,” said Chitty. “We work with some community members who are really good at doing this with non-Indigenous people to strengthen allyship and understanding of Indigenous perspectives.”
Insights on Truth and Reconciliation
The students will also hear from Murray Sinclair, former senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who has endorsed The Path program. Part of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership’s LeaderShift series, Sinclair’s presentation on November 24 has been incorporated into Learning Through Action to complement The Path program.
The idea for the Indigenous knowledge content came in the summer of 2020 after Ivey launched its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan, according to Nadine de Gannes, HBA’09, associate faculty director of the HBA Program and an Ivey EDI Advisory Council member, who has been working on initiatives to address discrimination, sexism, racism and inequality at Ivey. She began working with Erin Huner, director, culture and inclusion at Ivey, on creating space in the first-year curriculum for anti-racism content and Indigenous knowledges.
“We started thinking about and asking whose voices were not heard at Ivey and the answer was Indigenous voices. That’s a hard thing for many people to hear, but that was our truth. We hadn’t meaningfully engaged with truth and reconciliation as an institution,” she said. “Some faculty members, because of their deep care and concern, had taken steps [to bring these voices] to their courses. But we didn’t have, as an institution, a commitment and the resources to make meaningful change.”
Expanding Indigenous perspectives
Although Chitty said she hopes Western will eventually have a full, open, online course focused on local Indigenous histories and knowledges, The Path is a good starting point for stimulating curiosity.
“I hope the students’ curiosity is piqued enough that they continue to learn and seek out other resources and do the unlearning and decolonization work themselves. Up until recently, I think it has been treated as a very niche aspect of scholarship, but people are now realizing how integral it is to do reconciliation and work with Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “It’s important to learn about history from Indigenous perspectives and be able to apply a decolonial lens, through the reflective skills gained through this process, to their own work.”