Indigenous Studies provides accessible education through online learning

March 16, 2023
Credits to the participants of Dr. Winder's photovoice project for the images in this graphic.

The Department of Indigenous Studies (INDG) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) continues to reduce barriers to education on Indigenous cultures through INDG-Online, a program that provides Indigenous curricula by remote delivery.

These online courses respond to the 94 calls to action outlined by the 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC 62.1), to give Canadians greater education on the history of Canada which includes Indigenous perspectives and experiences, especially the impact of residential schools. INDG-Online was created through the Aboriginal Strategic Initiatives (ASI) at SFU by faculty members in Indigenous Studies, coordinated by Archaeology professor Rudy Reimer and Indigenous Studies professor Deanna Reder.

Through INDG-Online, students can remotely complete an Indigenous Studies Research Certificate in conjunction with their bachelor’s degree. There are 11 courses available through INDG-Online, including Introduction to Indigenous Studies (INDG 101), Indigenous Digital Media (INDG 210),  Researching Residential Schools (INDG 211), Treaties in Canada (INDG 305), and Aboriginal/Indigenous Justice (INDG 419). Courses were adapted specifically for online delivery and learning, which gives greater access to SFU students who are looking to complete part of their degree remotely. 

A key factor in the selected curriculum is that all courses can be completed effectively online. For example, Indigenous Ethnobotany (INDG 332) is better suited for in-person course delivery because the course includes outdoor field trips to study the role of plants in Indigenous cultures for use in foods, medicines, ceremony, and as ecological indicators. Indigenous Ethnozoology (INDG 333) however, explores Indigenous understandings of animals and critiques the way western science has named, classified, used, and managed animals. It also shares ways in which animals function as relatives—content which can be modified for an online course. “I don’t want to pretend that [INDG-Online] is going to replace the experience of walking on the land, but at least INDG 333 ensures that we don’t neglect that aspect of Indigenous studies—learning about the natural world,” Reder says.

 “We often say land acknowledgements, but very seldom do we actually understand that this land has never been ceded. This land has never been given up by Indigenous people.” 

Treena Chambers, Research Assistant

Indigenous Studies introduced a new course in Fall 2022, Researching Residential Schools (INDG 211), which is offered as a blended course within INDG-Online. The course was developed by Indigenous Studies professor Natahnee Winder, who is an expert on different iterations of the Residential School system around the world. The course discusses the Sámi people in Samiland (across Scandinavia) and the Māori people in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and dives into current events affecting Indigenous communities of Turtle Island (North America). The blended model of online and in-person course delivery provides flexibility for student schedules but allows students to build relationships face-to-face as one way of providing physical support. “Some topics can be emotionally triggering whether you're Indigenous or non-Indigenous,” explains Winder. “[Having part of the course in-person] establishes rapport and trust with each other because some students might be sharing things which have a direct family connection to the topic.” 

INDG-Online has seen great success in educating students on an underexamined topic in Canadian history through its course, Treaties in Canada (INDG 305). We live in a city that is based on land redevelopment and yet we don’t really understand what it means to be in a city on untreatied land,” says research assistant, Treena Chambers. She and fellow research assistant, Kimberley John, authored a report surveying the appetite for Indigenous education in professional workplaces. Their research established that there is still a tremendous need for more education and an understanding of Canadian history from Indigenous perspectives. “We often say land acknowledgements, but very seldom do we actually understand that this land has never been ceded,” says Chambers. “This land has never been given up by Indigenous people.” 

 “I don’t want to pretend that [INDG-Online] is going to replace the experience of walking on the land, but at least INDG 333 ensures that we don’t neglect that aspect of Indigenous studies—learning about the natural world.” 

Deana Reder, Professor of Indigenous Studies

While providing valuable learning in this course, Treaties in Canada (INDG 305) is also a FASS Forward one-credit course, which is designed to be taken asynchronously at students’ own pace. One-credit courses are growing in popularity with the SFU student body as they fill a need for students who are just shy of meeting their graduation credit requirements while giving them proficiency in a new topic or a new skill.

INDG-Online courses are offered either semesterly or annually, depending on the course, requiring students to be flexible with their timelines. For example, Introduction to Indigenous Studies (INDG 101) and Indigenous Peoples' Perspectives on History (INDG 201) are offered every semester and Indigenous Peoples and Public Policy (INDG 401) is offered every year, but some courses, such as INDG 201: Indigenous Digital Media, are only scheduled for every other year. 

INDG-Online is a project with plenty of ambition and great opportunities for expansion. With the feedback from Treena Chambers’ and Kimberley John’s report, Reder hopes the program will be able to offer courses to the SFU community at large and even, one day, to all interested residents of BC. Reder concludes, “With regards to offering accessible education on Indigenous topics, this is just the start.”  


SFU Aborginal Reconciliation Council (ARC) 2017: Walk this Path

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Responding To The TRC Calls To Action: Assessing Needs For Indigenous Curricula

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Post-secondary Education Indigenous Students' Perspectives: Sharing Our Voices on How We Fit into Residential School History of Canada and the United States

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French-language Indigenous Studies content: Introduction aux études autochtones.

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