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Dal's new Indigenous Studies minor set to launch this fall

- July 14, 2015

Program Coordinator Diana Lewis and the Faculty of Management's Vivian Howard, who was instrumental in helping develop the new Indigenous Studies minor, with the Grand Council Flag of the Mi'kmaq Nation. (Danny Abriel photos)
Program Coordinator Diana Lewis and the Faculty of Management's Vivian Howard, who was instrumental in helping develop the new Indigenous Studies minor, with the Grand Council Flag of the Mi'kmaq Nation. (Danny Abriel photos)

Students interested in the history and culture of First Nations peoples here in Nova Scotia and across the country will have a brand new option to add to their Dal undergrad degree this fall.

In September, Dalhousie is launching its new minor in Indigenous Studies. The program will be available to students in a variety of Bachelor’s programs, including Arts, Commerce, Science, Computer Science, Informatics and Management.

In development for a couple of years now, the program fulfills the organizers’ goal of an academic program at Dalhousie in recognition and appreciation of the Mi’kmaq people whose traditional territory the school is built on. It also brings together courses from several different faculties and departments, making it easier for students with an interest in indigenous topics and issues to integrate those into their studies.

Historical and contemporary perspectives

Diana Lewis has been hired as program coordinator for the minor. Lewis is Mi’kmaq and a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia. She holds a Master of Resource and Environmental Management degree and is a PhD candidate completing her doctoral thesis in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie. Her research focuses on environmental health issues facing First Nations communities in Nova Scotia.

Lewis says students from all walks of life will enjoy the program, and it will offer “a better historical and contemporary perspective” on the past, present and future of Canada’s Indigenous people.

“Teaching students about the history of our people and putting that into a contemporary perspective is something I am very passionate about,” says Lewis. “As we develop the minor, I anticipate that we could consider offerings that cover Mi’kmaq language, indigenous research methodologies, international indigenous perspectives, environment and resource issues… the potential is exciting.”

Lewis is excited about the implications of this program and its courses for students in programs that might not typically touch upon indigenous issues in the curriculum.

 “The courses really give an excellent understanding of treaties, aboriginal rights and aboriginal title. Understanding histories of treaties and settler expansion really gives [students] context to what they’re doing in their own fields.”

Learning across boundaries

Students in the minor program are required to complete two core, three-credit-hour courses: “Historical Issues in Indigenous Studies” and “Contemporary Issues in Indigenous Studies.” From there, students choose 12 credit hours from a list of courses in Arts and Social Sciences and Health Professions. There are also select courses at NSCAD, MSVU and SMU that can be taken as part of the minor with a letter of permission and approval from the coordinator.

Indeed, the vision of the program going forward is to grow both its interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration. The minor may become available beyond Dal with students at NSCAD or SMU adding the program onto their degree, and the hope is the program’s core courses will be valuable to everyone from arts students studying indigenous culture to law students studying human rights.

A cornerstone of the program will be an “elder in residence.” Though the elder or elders to fill this position have yet to be chosen, it shows an effort on the part of the program’s organizers to respect and honour the culture and traditions of the region.

Development of the new minor was supported by Dalhousie’s Academic Innovation program. Learn more about the Minor in Indigenous Studies in the Undergraduate Academic Calendar.


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