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Indigenous studies minor approved for Fall 2014

Students will be able to enroll in a new Indigenous Studies minor in the Faculty of Arts starting in Fall 2014, following the program’s approval by Senate last Wednesday.

The program, which has been the goal of ongoing initiatives by students and faculty for approximately 10 years, will be administered by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC).

According to MISC Director William Straw, groups such as KANATA and First Peoples’ House researched existing programs in other universities and courses in Indigenous studies already available at McGill. MISC then began to put together a proposal over the Summer and Fall of 2013.

“We were able to base our proposal on the incredible research the various student groups had done,” Straw said. “The dean of arts indicated that he supported the actual proposal coming from MISC.”

According to Arts Senator and KANATA Vice-President External Claire Stewart-Kanigan, McGill’s previous lack of an Indigenous Studies program set it behind most Canadian universities.

“It is a bit of a trend in Quebec that Indigenous issues don’t have as much currency as they do in the west,” she said. “I think this is a really important step in making sure that people from Quebec can study this.”

The minor concentration seeks to provide students with a diverse, interdisciplinary outlook on the social, cultural, and historical elements of Indigenous life in Canada, according to Senate documents.

“Core courses offered within the program will provide interdisciplinary treatments of Indigenous life,” the documents read. “The program of the course will focus on the history of Indigenous populations in Canada, Aboriginal art and culture, and legacies of Indigenous resistance to the Canadian state.”

According to Straw, the minor will consist of two new courses—an introductory course and an upper level seminar in Indigenous studies. Students fulfill the remaining 12 credits for the program through course options cross-listed from other programs such as English, history, anthropology, and sociology.

The university will hire two new professors for the core courses, with recruitment beginning in March or April.

The proposal required approval from the Subcommittee on Courses and Teaching Programs and the Academic Policy Committee, prior to Senate approval.

However, the new minor could still face challenges such as financial difficulties, according to Stewart-Kanigan.

“There were a lot of problems getting faculty support [and] finding a faculty that would house this new minor,” she said. “For the program to really flourish and become its own autonomous unit, you will need a department chair and that takes funding.”

Stewart-Kanigan said costs could be as high as $2-3 million.

Straw added that soliciting greater involvement with the community is an additional goal for those involved in creating the program.

“Another challenge will be finding ways to involve […] the community of students invested in Indigenous studies and local Indigenous communities themselves,” he said. “We want to set up an advisory structure that conforms to McGill’s governance structure while acknowledging that an Indigenous Studies program needs to involve communities in a way that other programs may not.”

Jacob Greenspon, vice-president academic of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), said many arts students have shown enthusiasm for the new minor.

“Students have been really excited about this,” he said. “A lot of them did seem to think we had a program like this but now they’re finding out it’s offered […] I think a lot of people are really excited to go into this topic.”

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