UWSA considering mandatory indigenous heritage courses

Maclean’s article on racism in Winnipeg prompts change and action at U of W

The University of Winnipeg and its student body are taking a stand against racism in the city. 

On the heels of Maclean’s magazine stating Winnipeg has the worst racism problem in Canada, University administrators and representatives stood in solidarity with mayor Brian Bowman to acknowledge the city’s failings. The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association has created a proposal to include mandatory courses on indigenous heritage for all U of W students. This is the result of over a year's worth of collaboration and consultation.

“Above all else, we must listen to the voices within Indigenous communities who have been ignored, and work together to build a more peaceful city for all Winnipeggers,” the UWSA told The Uniter in a prepared statement, signed by president Rorie Mcleod Arnould. 

“Students at the University of Winnipeg have identified the need for action. In partnership with the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Students’ Council, we have created a proposal that would see all UW students required [to] take courses that focus on Indigenous ways of knowing and lived experience. This proposal, is currently being considered for implementation in the 2016/17 academic year.” 

These proposed courses are an effort to educate people on race, culture and social issues, as it is widely thought that race issues are due to lack of knowledge and understanding. 

The effects of the Maclean’s article are being felt on campus in other ways as well. 

John Fox, representative for the Aboriginal Students’ Council at the U of W, says there is debate as to whether Winnipeg is indeed a racist city. 

“Nobody is going to say it, but it is more of a feel that you get from the people,” Fox says, adding that the article has put race issues into the forefront of people’s minds. 

“It hasn’t really affected me, but I feel it more [than before]. It has opened my eyes to see if it really exists.”

Wab Kinew, associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Winnipeg, joined mayor Brian Bowman, U of W president Annette Trimbee and other indigenous and community leaders to address Maclean’s claims in a press conference on Jan. 22.

Kinew agrees with a number of statements in the article and explains where the race issues are coming from in the first place. 

“Part of it is government, part of it is laws, part of it is the the way the whole society is set up,” Kinew tells The Uniter. “This country was set up in a way to disadvantage indigenous people. That’s our history.”

Kinew, an activist for indigenous rights and opportunities, says that many programs have been in place at the University long before this article was published.

Scholarships from the opportunity fund, model schools for inner-city aboriginal youth and high-quality private high school programs are a few examples. As far as direction, post-Maclean’s article, Kinew says putting aboriginal voices in positions of power is one way to move forward. 

“It’s all about bringing indigenous perspectives into the government and the University, that’s where we’re going to look to for direction,” he says. 

To view a briefing of the UWSA’s proposed indigenous requirement, go to theuwsa.ca/indigenous-requirement-lobbying.

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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