DALVision profile: A new minor in Aboriginal Studies
Ryan McNutt - October 2, 2013
It’s not always easy for students interested in Aboriginal subjects to find their way through the university. While there are a handful of classes at Dal in various Faculties addressing Aboriginal or Indigenous topics, undergrads are often forced to integrate their interests into assignments for unrelated courses.
That’s about to change, thanks to a new interdisciplinary minor in Aboriginal Studies, currently in development. The project brings together the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Health Professions and Management, along with with the Transition Year Program and the Aboriginal Health Sciences Initiative. It’s one of the projects that received funding from the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative earlier this year.
Vivian Howard, associate dean (academic) in the Faculty of Management, says the minor comes out of ongoing conversations about how Dal can better support Aboriginal students, along with students interested in Aboriginal topics more broadly.
“For Aboriginal students who come to Dal, there are not many routes through our programs where they can really see themselves,” she says. “So as Dal looked to increase the number of minors offered, we started talking about a minor in Aboriginal Studies: a core set of courses addressing the history and culture of Aboriginal peoples.”
To help pull the proposal together, a consulting group was assembled including faculty with Aboriginal research interests, Aboriginal students and community members. For Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, a Mi’kmaq woman who’s been a professor with the Faculty of Law, the Transition Year Program and International Development Studies, it felt like a landmark moment in the quest to better represent Aboriginal voices in the academic sphere.
“Fifteen years ago, I felt like the lone voice in the land, and it’s hard when you’re only one person to move things like this forward,” she says. “What I’m really happy about is the goodwill and commitment of all people in that room, whether they’re Mi’kmaq, or non-native, or Aboriginal scholars, or students… it’s just so enthusiastic.”
The DALVision funding is being used to hire a part-time curriculum developer to help shape what the minor will look like. Lisa Robinson, who has a BA in Sociology from Dal and a BEd from the Mount, is taking on that role. She’s from the Lennox Island First Nation, but spent most of her life as part of the urban Aboriginal community and is eager to reach out to groups across Dal and around the Maritimes to help inform the development of the new minor.
“It’s going to be a long and interesting process,” she says. “I’m starting by researching other universities that have similar programs in place, and then looking at speaking with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students about what they’d like to see, along with faculty and the community. Even if they don’t have an affiliation with Dal, I think it’s important to bring the community and our Aboriginal elders into the conversation, to see what they’d like students to learn about the culture and its history.”
An important step
The team is hoping to have a program proposal completed by the spring, with a launch date targeted for Fall 2015. Robinson (who is also starting an MA at Dal this fall) will be leading that proposal process; those interested in connecting with her can email email@example.com.
Prof. Doyle-Bedwell says the minor is an important step towards ensuring that Aboriginal peoples’ role as the third pillar of Canadian society is reflected in Dal’s academic offerings.
“I’ve invested a lot of my life in this university, and to see this moving forward fills my heart with joy.”
This article is part of a series highlighting projects funded by the DALVision Academic Innovation initiative. To learn more about DALVision and this year’s projects, visit its website.
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