Professor Brenda Morrison, far right, uses the traditional talking circle in her restorative justice class.

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Indigenizing curriculum takes many guises

February 14, 2018
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By Diane Luckow

When students enroll in criminology professor Brenda Morrison’s courses, they quickly discover that much of the teaching occurs in a talking circle. The circle is a traditional Indigenous symbol, and the talking circle is a practice that represents how Aboriginal peoples view the natural world, and what we can learn from it.

“I run all of my senior seminars in circle,” says Morrison, “because they never end, and learning never ends, and reconciliation never ends.”

As well, she sometimes begins classes with a traditional drumming session.

Morrison’s use of the Indigenous circle and traditional drumming are just two examples of the myriad ways in which SFU professors and instructors are beginning to indigenize their curriculum and pedagogical practices.

William Lindsay, former director of the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, is now helping to shepherd this work as part of his new role as special advisor on Aboriginal affairs, working with SFU’s vice-president, academic and the vice-president, external relations.

Ensuring all SFU grads learn about Canada's Aboriginal peoples and their history

“The goal of indigenizing the curriculum,” he says, “is to ensure all future SFU grads have some experience and knowledge of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”

How that occurs is still to be decided, he says. There are many options for indigenizing curriculum. These range from the possibility of a compulsory course in Aboriginal peoples, to adopting Indigenous practices in some courses, as Morrison has done, to including Aboriginal experts as speakers, or working with Aboriginal people to incorporate Aboriginal teachings or culture as part of courses.

Lindsay is currently developing an online tutorial to familiarize faculty and staff with Aboriginal issues relating to colonialism, residential schools, and reconciliation.                                                                                 

The tutorial, “In the Context of Colonialism: The Indian Act, The Residential School System and Reconciliation—A Primer,” will be available online.

Says Lindsay, “It will be one of the options for teaching about the Aboriginal peoples of this country and their experiences.”