I think it’s safe to say that most people, Canadians especially, are aware of the colonialist roots that run through the very land we study on and the fact that it was stolen from Indigenous peoples. You may have heard declarations in some of your classes acknowledging the land: “We begin by acknowledging this land on which the University of Toronto Mississauga operates. We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit.” Some of you may roll your eyes at the constant reminder of Canada’s dark past; however, I believe that Indigenous education should be a mandatory first-year course in all Canadian universities.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) wrote 94 Calls to Action to the Canadian government in an effort to begin the process of reconciliation between Canadians and the Indigenous peoples. Section 62, the Education for Reconciliation, states that studies on “residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada are a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.” However, the TRC only calls on elementary and secondary schools, and I believe the reach that can be made with undergraduate students is a huge opportunity missed.
Not only could domestic students benefit from learning more about Canada’s past and how to move forward in the future, but there are also substantial untapped opportunities involving the international student community. Many international students who study at the University of Toronto call Mississauga and the GTA region their home after a while, especially considering that a lot of them stay in Canada afterward to continue their life here. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 50.6 per cent of international students plan to apply for permanent residency, and 61 per cent plan to work in Canada after graduation. Therefore, international students should know the history of the land they are studying on as much as domestic students.
The Indigenous community deserves recognition from all who step foot on their land. To study and live on Canadian soil means that we are using resources that were not initially cultivated by our ancestors or us unless you have an Indigenous background. Education is the foundation upon which any change can be made, which is why I think both international and domestic students should learn the history of Indigenous peoples and their impact on life today.
Considering how Indigenous education has not been made mandatory by the provincial school boards for elementary and secondary schools, I urge Canadian universities to take the initiative themselves and set the example for younger generations. The maturity of university students, combined with the diversity present at UTM, could benefit from a compulsory university course. I believe that the strong academia found at U of T would be great paired with an Indigenous educator who could provide a more in-depth understanding of Canada’s systemic colonial roots.
That being said, Indigenous education should not end with U of T. It would be more effective if all Canadian universities introduced their own Indigenous education course for first-years. A mandatory first-year course should be the beginning.
Still, an entire range of Indigenous classes should also be offered at every level, ranging from historical, political, social, geographic, cultural, and economic perspectives. Moreover, there are many opportunities for community involvement within these courses, such as trips to Indigenous reserves and historical landmarks related to residential schools. Guest speakers could also be invited to talk about their own experiences with Canada’s past, such as the sixties scoop and residential schools. Furthermore, there are also chances for students to learn more about Indigenous cultures itself, such as their mythologies, customs, and beliefs. The opportunities indeed are endless once the right people in power take the lead to instigate change.Ultimately, each individual is responsible for taking the initiative themselves to learn more about Canada’s history and Indigenous peoples, and how to better our current and future relationship with them. Both domestic and international students should feel obligated to do so, as we are all using the land cultivated generations before us by Indigenous groups. I call upon all students to kickstart their own education about Indigenous history and culture. I urge the university to consider implementing a more rigorous education system in the form of new first-year courses. After all, the future of reconciliation and peace is in the hands of our youth.