A College Built for Canadian Settlers Envisions an Indigenous Future

The University of Saskatchewan is leading the charge to become a kind of Reconciliation U, committing to change in areas including scholarship and governance, and envisioning itself as an institution of “knowledge-keeping,” as well as research and learning.

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“Universities are so inherently white and Western, when you start to push against it, you realized how intractable a lot of that is,” said Peter Stoicheff, the university president.

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Cole Burston for The New York Times

The trend has its detractors, who call it “redwash” at best and assimilation by a different name at worst. Aboriginal scholars say that colonial education philosophies and aboriginal theories of knowledge are incompatible.

“Here students are really getting developed to be trained capitalists,” said Priscilla Settee, a professor of indigenous and gender studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “We need to build curriculum that builds community and strong connections, in the context of Western development and capitalism that’s marginalized many of us.”

Even Peter Stoicheff, the university’s president, recognizes the challenges.

“Universities are so inherently white and Western, when you start to push against it, you realized how intractable a lot of that is,” Mr. Stoicheff said.

“Everything is based on reading stuff,” he explained. “Everything is laid out in a hierarchical and linear fashion. Look at the aboriginal ways, from visual expression to the wampum belt, dances and oral storytelling. It’s not linear. Everything is based on the circle.”

Supporters of the effort, though, say that no matter the challenges, or the motives, a university degree is a long-term cure for many of the insidious ills afflicting aboriginals — poverty, unemployment, addictions, poor health, incarceration, hopelessness.

Those ills, the commission found, can often be…

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