Tuesday, October 26, 2021

UBC-V Senate Curriculum & the Indigenous Strategic Plan

An interesting discussion emerged in the senate curriculum committee yesterday (Oct. 25, 2021) about integrating aspects of the ISP into the working of the committee.  I share my thoughts here as it might be useful to others when thinking about how one makes the ISP a living document.  The discussion revolved around Goal 4, Item 16 – including at least one course in a program that considered that disciplines relations to Indigenous history/peoples.


It was raised that in some STEM fields it might be hard to find ways to do this and that while people are willing they don’t know anything about the subject and thus don’t know where to start. 


For some years I have worked with high school science and social studies teachers were they engage integrating Indigenous knowledge into the high school curriculum. In this respect the FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) support documents have become quite helpful. Early on my research team developed curriculum examples (done in what I call a small ‘c’ conservative approach, that is translating info into ways that work with existing curriculum, rather than transforming the curriculum totally). You can see some of these examples here:  https://ecoknow.ca/curriculum.html 

My motivating idea was that teachers are busy, so how can we help them implement something with a minimal effort on their part. A lot of this content here fits into what I call  ‘translation’ that is taking a standard unit (like Judy Thompson does in her plant/chemistry unit) on say base/acid reactions and use material and content from an Indigenous setting (berry harvesting and processing in Tsimshian society). It’s one important way to start making normative changes.


It seems that the first step is to move beyond saying “I don’t know” and to self-empowerment by saying “I want to learn.” Being willing to accept that despite being an expert in, say software or biomechanics, one might be able to use those same capacities to build one’s knowledge in Indigenous knowledge.  It might even be useful to sit in on a class offered by a colleague who researches and teaches in this way, for example. 


The second step is to see if a program can adopt or recommend students take another unit’s course (I appreciate that the crafters of the ISP might not prefer this, but it is a mid-range solution and one that UBC programs have used for other subjects for decades, i.e., English & Math service courses).  Many applied science programs have society and policy courses, a first step would be include units about the history of the discipline and Indigenous peoples and societies in those courses. Then perhaps create an entire course to follow.


The third step is to examine the curriculum on the books and ask if we have course on Indigenous subjects is it a course ‘on them,’ that is Indigenous societies/peoples form the subject matter of the course, or are data from us (Indigenous peoples) being used to elaborate or advance theories and models that originate outside of Indigenous peoples. Are there courses that draw from Indigenous knowledge to understand Indigenous issues. Or perhaps there are courses that are rooted in Indigenous knowledge that uses settler knowledges as data to examine our world in some way. There are qualitative differences in each of these approaches and I would presume most programs would want to move beyond the first step to bring themselves into line with the ISP.


As I will say in Teacher ProD workshops I've been invited to present in, the first step is to take responsibility for ourselves, not transfer it onto someone else. That responsibility is to learn about how to address Indigenous issues, not through appreciation of art or culture (that is fine too, but misses the point) but rather through how to meaningfully and respectfully transform one’s teaching to include Indigenous Knowledge and the relation of one’s academic discipline to the history of colonial displacement and marginalization that has made Canada (and BC) the place it is.