Dalhousie University launches new indigenous studies program

Diana Lewis is the program coordinator for the indigenous studies minor program at Dalhousie University./Photo by Stephen Brake

A Mi’kmaq academic is in charge of a new indigenous studies minor program at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Diana Lewis, originally from Indian Brook First Nation, N.S., began her position as the program coordinator of the Indigenous Studies minor in July.

“Students are craving these kind of courses,” Diana Lewis said. “And so many students are interested in working in (First Nation) communities but they may not understand history. They don’t know the proper terminology to use,” she said.

“I think it’s really exciting to be able to develop something specific and just promote the history of our region,” Lewis added.

Last year, Dalhousie University conducted a survey amongst students at the Halifax and Truro campuses to determine if there was any interest in taking courses in indigenous issues.

“So based on the interest shown by the students, we started to look at what the potential courses could be for the minor,” Lewis explained.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Dalhousie is offering two half credits for second-year university students. The course being taught during the fall semester is called the historical perspectives on indigenous issues. A course about contemporary indigenous issues will be taught during the winter semester.

Lewis, who earned her Masters degree in Resource and Environmental Management from Dalhousie University, is teaching both courses. She is also in the process of completing her PhD from the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie.

Courses will cover history and contemporary indigenous issues

Some of the topics her two courses will cover include pre-contact history, the treaty-making process in the Atlantic region and in other parts of Canada, the residential school system, the sixties scoop, the 1969 White Paper, the 1982 constitutional talks and environmental issues.

More than 50 students have signed up for course being offered in the fall semester, Lewis explained.

The program will expand to offer six to eight courses in indigenous studies next year, she added.

Students will also be able to take courses on various indigenous topics offered at Saint Mary’s University, Mount Saint Vincent University and NSCAD University to count towards their minor in indigenous studies.

The launch of the indigenous studies minor program is timely in light of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in June regarding Indian residential schools, Lewis said.

One of the recommendations made by the TRC called for Canadian universities to teach the history of Indigenous people in Canada, including the abuse Aboriginal students suffered while they attended residential schools.

“I’m an Indian residential school survivor so to be able to be in that position to teach as well and be a professor at Dalhousie is really, really an honour,” Lewis said.

“To be part of this, to be in my own territory and to know the communities and to know the issues and priorities, it’s just, like, so timely and I’m so proud to be part of it.”

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.