Decolonizing Labour Studies through Indigenous Literature

Grant program: Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipient: Kendra Strauss, Labour Studies Program

Project team: TBD

Timeframe: October 2018 to September 2019

Funding: $5978

Course addressed: LBST 101 – Introducing Labour Studies

Description: LBST 101 is the key lower division introductory course for the Labour Studies Program. It tends to enrol students in their third, fourth, fifth years and beyond, as well as Labour Studies Majors and Minors. The course introduces students to a range of disciplines, approaches and conceptual foundations that make up the field Labour Studies, which is multi-disciplinary by nature.

I plan to explore decolonizing approaches to Labour Studies through the integration of a novel study as a key component of the course. Although Indian Horse is the text that triggered this idea, the project team will generate and review a shortlist of novels by Indigenous writers, and list of supporting texts (articles, book chapters), in order to ensure the best fit with the course and its core themes. The goal is for students to read the chosen novel over the course of a semester, with accompanying texts that help students explore the themes of work and labour in the book, in order to highlight the elision and erasure of First Nations economies and Indigenous labour in much labour research. I am hoping to develop a pedagogical approach to introductory material that creates space for deep engagement with settler colonialism as an ongoing process that is integral to the Canadian economy, capitalism and labour markets. The goal is for students to gain knowledge and understanding, through Indigenous literature as storytelling, of settler colonialism as a system and as lived experience that has implications for both Indigenous peoples and settlers – and to utilize this understanding as a foundation for their analyses of labour, the economy and the labour movement. I also hope that this approach will create an opening for engaging with white supremacy, which (like settler colonialism) creates a great deal of resistance in a classroom setting.

Questions addressed:

  • To what extent and in what ways, do students develop an understanding of settler colonialism as a system and as a lived experience that has implications for both Indigenous peoples and settlers, through their engagement with Indigenous literature?
  • To what extent and in what ways do students utilize their understanding of settler colonialism as a foundation for their analyses of labour, the economy and the labour movement?
  • To what extent and in what ways do students display positive shifts in their attitudes regarding settler colonialism and white supremacy (for example, changes in level of resistance to these topics, or understanding of their own settler responsibilities)? What kinds of shifts are achievable through this approach to decolonizing course content?
  • To what extent do students feel comfortable and/or safe learning about and discussing the topics and texts in the course?
  • What challenges does the TA face supporting students’ learning in tutorial and what supports does s/he need to face those challenges?

Knowledge sharing: The project team will produce a  written report, and willl present the project findings to a special meeting of the Labour Studies Steering Committee and Program instructors. This will be paired with a strategy session on next steps.

We will also explore ways of presenting the findings beyond the Labour Studies Program – perhaps to the BC Federation of Labour Education committee, to one of the subject articulation committees, or through our Program’s outreach to teachers. We will also explore the possibility of presenting the findings of this project at a conference, or writing them up as an article (for example, for the journal Labour/Le travail).