Concordia to become first Quebec university to offer indigenous studies degree


To be implemented in the fall

Erin Hudson
CUP Quebec Bureau Chief

MONTREAL (CUP) — By next fall, Concordia University is hoping to be making history as the first university in Quebec to offer a bachelors degree with a major concentration in First Peoples studies.

A major in First Peoples studies has been available to students since September 2010, however approval from the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport must be granted before the program is official, meaning no student can graduate with the major until then.

The major is offered through Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, along with a minor that is both available and officially sanctioned — minors do not require ministerial approval.

Daniel Salée, the school’s current principal, has been working on implementing the major and minor programs since the 2001-2002 school year.

“We’re really in the very final stage now of having it approved — it took a lot of time,” said Salée. “But we’re confident that this year should be the year where we’ll be able to finalize the whole thing and have it approved officially.”

Along with Manson Tremblay, now senior advisor on Aboriginal initiatives at the University of Ottawa, Salée and his colleagues took two years to put the program proposal together. Passing Concordia’s internal governance processes, the major and minor programs were approved by the university’s Senate in 2006.

The final hurdles for the major program involved gaining approval from the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec (CREPUQ) and then the ministry. Each of the external reviews involves answering a series of questions and recommendations concerning matters such as financing the program, projected enrollment, and content of the curriculum.

“Really the biggest problem was that when you make certain claims with respect to epistemologies and methodologies you get all these people who raise eyebrows: ‘What do you mean? Why aren’t Western ways of knowing good?’” – Daniel Salée

But though this final stage of approval typically does not take a long time, Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens expressed uncertainty over how Ministry of Education will function now under the newly elected provincial government.

“Right now in Quebec we’ve split the Ministry of Education in two different ministers, so there’s a brand new one who’s in charge of university and I don’t know what the process is at that point right now, so it might slow down a bit,” he said.

Salée said the major program received a lot of support within Concordia and from the government bodies though he noted that he and his colleagues had to “justify more what we’re doing or what we’re trying to do.”

“Really the biggest problem was that when you make certain claims with respect to epistemologies and methodologies you get all these people who raise eyebrows: ‘What do you mean? Why aren’t Western ways of knowing good?’” he continued.

For Salée part of the reason for the nearly decade-long approval process was due to the major in First Peoples studies being the first of its kind in Quebec.

“No other university in Quebec has a similar program … so there was a lot of discussion internally. For example, one of the big issues was how do we integrate Aboriginal methodologies into a Western-type curriculum,” he explained.

With the exception of Bishop’s University's minor in Indigenous Studies and Université Laval’s certificate program, no other Quebec university has a structured program offered through the institution. Some students and staff at McGill University have been lobbying the university to establish a program for at least a decade and a program is reportedly in development.

Over the last twenty years many universities across Canada have developed a variety of programs, departments and faculties dedicated to the expanding field of indigenous studies.

Out of the 15 members of the U15, an informal group of the top research-intensive universities in Canada, only four universities do not offer official programs for students in the field of indigenous studies: McGill University, Université de Montréal, Dalhousie University and Queen’s University.

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