A Nova Scotia senator and Mi’kmaw activist says post-secondary journalism schools in the Maritime provinces are taking a “passive approach” in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation’s Call-to-Action to teach Indigenous history and issues to students.
“(They’re) doing something but it is as if it’s washing its hands of its responsibilities,” Senator Dan Christmas said in a phone interview.
In June of 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 Calls to Action to address the harmful legacy the Indian residential school system had on Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Call-to-Action No. 86 calls on journalism and media programs to integrate education to all of their students on Indigenous history, rights, treaties, residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous-Crown relations.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that today’s journalism schools graduate people that have a strong understanding of (Indigenous) issues,” Christmas says.
“It’s really the journalists who provide information to the Canadian public and if they don’t understand this properly, they will pass on their lack of understanding to their readers or their viewers,” he adds.
There are currently four schools in the Maritimes that offer journalism programs. They include the University of King’s College and the Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax, N.S., St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., and Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The University of King’s College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism. St. Thomas University offers a major in digital journalism and new media in its undergraduate arts program. The NSCC offers a diploma in Radio Television Journalism and Holland College offers a diploma in journalism.
2017 Howe Symposium dedicated to TRC and Indigenous issues
Tim Currie, Director of the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College, said the school dedicated its 2017 Howe Symposium to Indigenous issues and communities. Invited speakers included Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue and Stephen Augustine, Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Affairs and Unamaki College at Cape Breton University.
“I think this was something that was a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call-to-Action on the journalism schools,” Currie said.
Currie said he also had University president William Lahey conduct lectures on treaties and Indigenous law in the school’s core classes.
“I made the conscious decision to bring in president Lahey, who is the president of King’s but he’s also a former law professor at Dalhousie, who has much experience in the teaching of the law as it relates to Indigenous peoples,” Currie said.
However, Christmas said only bringing in visiting lecturers is “a minimalist approach.”
“I think what’s really required is an effort to teach the student body the issues that were outlined in the TRC,” Christmas says.
A spokesman with St. Thomas University said the university encourages professors to integrate Indigenous materials into their own curriculum. He said the university held an event in which all 94 TRC Calls-to-Actions were read.
In a email response, a NSCC spokesperson said the college is reaching out to Indigenous leaders in communities to help them address the TRC’s Call-to-Action. A Holland College spokesperson said it doesn’t currently offer a course for Indigenous issues but may add material into existing courses in the future.
Christmas stressed the importance of journalism schools having mandatory courses within their programs that deal with treaty rights, residential schools and other topics that are lead by Indigenous peoples.
“Graduates will be dealing with this kind of information. They need to be well-taught and well-educated and well-aware of those issues,” he said.
Additionally, Christmas says those same journalism schools should also recruit Indigenous journalists to teach those courses.
“I think if mainstream (media) want to develop that cultural competency to be able to cover and record Indigenous stories then yes, journalism schools have to have experienced, knowledgeable individuals, who are from those communities themselves,” Christmas said.
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