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Times Higher Education: Can Canada bring more Indigenous people and knowledge into universities?

December 1, 2017 — 

As Times Higher Education reports: 

One student to benefit from all this activity is 41-year-old Charlene Hallett, who is now in her third year of study at the University of Manitoba.

“I grew up so poor I don’t think I ever saw university in my future,” she says. But when the youngest of her three children began school, she decided that she “wanted to go back to full-time school, too”. So she enrolled on Manitoba’s free access programme, which provides academic, personal and financial support to aboriginal people, local residents and those on low incomes….

In an article in Times Higher Education earlier this year, two professors based in Manitoba wrote that “many scholars are afraid to publicly question the Indigenisation of knowledge for fear of being labelled neocolonialist or even racist”.

According to Rodney Clifton, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Manitoba, and Gabor Csperegi, professor of philosophy at the Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg: “Current political thinking in both Canadian wider society and universities holds that Indigenous knowledge comes from the elders, whom respectful people…cannot legitimately question. Hence, although Indigenous knowledge is so important that it must be taught, it is treated as so sacred that it can’t be openly debated.”

…Ry Moran is director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, established in 2015 as the permanent home for all the documents gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He agrees that universities are “critically important” in Canada’s process of reconciliation, in part because, for a long time, they were among the few places that had “real, accurate historical information on what was happening” to Indigenous people.

“Universities have been a bastion for honest conversations about who we’ve been and how we’ve been. They’ve also been bastions of advancing Indigenous thoughts and advancing Indigenous ideas,” he says.

However, even universities have had to undergo a “transition” to help restore trust with Indigenous peoples.

“There are ever-increasing numbers of Indigenous students coming into [higher education] and finding that it is a positive, enriching and powerful experience. We can contrast that with when it wasn’t,” he says. “Once upon a time, when a First Nations person wanted to come to a university, they had to give up their status of being a First Nations person.”

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