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Advancing Aboriginal education at Memorial University

By Jennifer Batten | Dec. 21, 2015

Memorial is moving forward with the development of a new certificate program that will be available to students across all disciplines.

The proposed new certificate in Aboriginal and Indigenous studies is designed for anyone interested in learning about the history, cultures, languages, beliefs and experiences of Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples. The objective of the program is to provide foundational knowledge for understanding historical and contemporary experiences of Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples – from the origins of First Peoples and their complex histories, to present movements and the growing desire for reconciliation between governments and Aboriginal and Indigenous societies. The program will be offered through the Faculty of Arts and the proposal is currently undergoing an internal consultation process. It is expected it will be ready for implementation in 2016.

Memorial University is committed to fulfilling its special obligation to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. As the only university in the province, Memorial plays a vital role in not only preserving Aboriginal history, cultures and languages, but ensuring that all students – individuals with varied backgrounds, academic interests and career aspirations – gain a deep understanding of the history, cultures and languages and carry forth their awareness and education to future generations of students.

“Since releasing A Special Obligation: Report of the Presidential Task Force on Aboriginal Initiatives in 2009, Memorial University has been moving forward with identifying and implementing best practices in Aboriginal education and implementing appropriate strategic initiatives to support Aboriginal students,” said Catharyn Andersen, special advisor to the president on Aboriginal Affairs. “Not only do we have a special obligation to the people of our province, but we also have a role to play, as a post-secondary institution, in the reconciliation efforts outlined through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.”

Another major initiative at Memorial is the plan for Aboriginal House – a designated, visible, centrally located space for Aboriginal students on the St. John’s campus intended to support Aboriginal student success, encourage members of the local Aboriginal community to get to know one another, help Memorial promote stronger links with the greater Aboriginal community, create cultural awareness within the entire university community and provide a culturally safe place that is inclusive and respectful. Plans for this new space are moving forward, with the development of a concept design and the identification of a location and space on campus.

Key projects at Memorial that have been successfully implemented within the past few years include an Inuit bachelor of education (primary/elementary) degree program in partnership with the Nunatsiavut Government facilitated entirely in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, and aimed at Nunatsiavut beneficiaries and those interested in teaching in Inuttitut; an Aboriginal student scholarship program; and the Aboriginal Designated Seats Program, which reserves seats for Aboriginal students in many programs university-wide. The program is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country and was granted special status by the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission in 2012, which protects existing designated seats and the program itself from any challenges.

Memorial University is also in the process of establishing an Aboriginal Advisory Committee for the purpose of advising the special advisor on Aboriginal Affairs on matters relating to academic programming, student support services, public engagement and any other matters as they relate to the mandate of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. Memorial actively participates on the Association of Atlantic Universities Council’s Committee on Aboriginal Education, and continues to offer student support services for Aboriginal students through its Aboriginal Resource Office on the St. John’s campus and the Student Affairs Office at Grenfell Campus.

Ms. Andersen said she is pleased with the initiatives that are currently in place across Memorial’s campuses, but she also recognizes the university has much more work to do. 

“I’m looking forward to working with the university community and the Aboriginal communities in our province to further advance our mandate.”