The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) has proposed that all students be required to take at least three credit hours focusing on Indigenous content in order to graduate. The recommendation, named the Indigenous Requirement, was crafted by the UWSA in conjunction with the University of Winnipeg’s Aboriginal Students’ Council and in consultation with the Indigenous Advisory Circle.
If the University of Winnipeg’s senate approves the Indigenous Requirement, it would take effect in fall 2016. To satisfy the requirement, students would need to complete any three credit hour course whose content was deemed by an advisory committee to focus on Indigenous history, culture, knowledge or experience.
The Indigenous Requirement would be unique to the University of Winnipeg among undergraduate universities in Canada that do not focus on Indigenous programs. While the University of Regina requires students in its Faculty of Arts to complete an “Indigenous Knowledge” credit, the same is not asked of students in the Faculty of Science.
It is worth noting that the Indigenous Requirement would not increase the time or the cost necessary to complete a degree. All undergrads are required to complete many elective credits that differ from their specific area of study. This credit would only see a small reduction in elective credit hours needed for graduation.
Moreover, it is in keeping with some of the existing requirements for graduation: arts students are required to take at least six credit hours that fulfill a science requirement and science students are required to take at least six credit hours in the humanities. The goal of these requisites is for the university to provide a versatile education.
The Indigenous Requirement is in keeping with that goal. The study of Indigenous knowledge and history would give many students an opportunity to recognize a worldview that is different from their own.
Indigenous culture and history is often minimized or devalued in our settler society. The University of Winnipeg itself is located on Treaty One land and has a significant Indigenous student population. If nothing else, recognizing Indigenous knowledge will hopefully emphasize that Western knowledge and understanding of the world is neither natural nor exclusively acceptable, although it is privileged.
In Winnipeg, the introduction of the Indigenous requirement is as timely as it is necessary. In light of recent press attention, racism is being widely discussed in the city. While some have reacted in defense of white privilege, many Winnipeggers seem to agree that racism is a problem. Our challenge now is what to do about it.
As always, education is the first step in creating a productive dialogue. An Indigenous requirement would help see to it that all University of Winnipeg graduates have at least a basic understanding of how Indigenous peoples have been subjugated for centuries by both institutional and internalized racism in Canada. This is not a discussion that should begin at the post-secondary level, but rather long before that in every school across the country. For now, this will have to do.
Robyn Otto is a German major with mild caffeine and major pug addictions.