By Matthew Curtis, Fourth-Year Journalism, Carleton University
Educational institutions bear a great responsibility, not only in helping learners develop a set of skills, but in shaping their attitudes, values and beliefs as they prepare to become active participants in society. And it is through education that subjects can be brought to light that have historically been denied the prevalence they deserve.
In 2016, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada made several calls to action, including recommendations specific to higher education. One of those recommendations was for post-secondary institutions to integrate more Indigenous knowledge into the classroom.
Following the calls to action, there was an even bigger demand at Carleton for Indigenous experts to visit classes and present on Indigenous issues, but that wasn’t sustainable.
“Since I arrived [at Carleton] in 2014, right from the get-go I was asked to contribute lectures in other classes,” says Kahente Horn-Miller, a professor in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies. “I found that myself and other colleagues in the same position were essentially being run ragged going from class to class during lectures. I wondered if there was another way to do this.”
Horn-Miller envisioned the concept of Collaborative Indigenous Learning Bundles as a way to integrate Indigenous knowledge into Carleton’s classrooms without overburdening Indigenous experts. She collaborated with the Educational Development Centre (EDC) to design the Bundles as both a resource for instructors and a learning tool for students. There are currently six Bundles available for adoption as a cuLearn lesson, all produced and delivered by Indigenous experts.
Since their implementation in December 2018, Horn-Miller says not only have the Bundles reduced the demands on Indigenous studies professors, but that feedback has been “very positive” from faculty, administration and staff.
The Bundles have been adopted in 26 courses since they were launched. And while there might be obvious connections between some course content and the Bundle topics, others might find it more challenging to see a clear connection to their field. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Instructors play an important role in finding those connections and bridging their course content to the Indigenous knowledge.
Horn-Miller says she’s confident these Bundles can be applied across disciplines, and even while she recognizes some difficulties may be encountered in math and science-heavy courses, their viability is not to be understated.
“These Bundles are called collaborative Bundles for a reason,” she says. “One of the things that we’re finding is that the faculty engage with them on a personal level and put in the effort to learn alongside their students.”
Alan Steele’s experience with the Bundles confirms this sentiment. Steele, a professor in the Department of Electronics, integrated the Bundles into his course as an additive to a capstone project on the impact of electrical engineering on the environment. He included topics covered in the Bundles as additional options for mandatory reflections and found a two-to-one ratio of students who chose to reflect on the Indigenous subject matter.
“There was certainly a flow backwards and forwards, discussing some of the aspects that came out of the Bundles,” he says.
“I had one student who sent me an email where he thanked me for including this material, that it was something which felt as important as it was.”
While Steele acknowledges that it may be difficult for some instructors in STEM courses to find the connections, he is thankful for the effort and dedication that went into producing the Bundles for their effect on both himself as an instructor and his students.
“I’m very appreciative as an instructor from Europe for having those Bundles available,” he says.
In terms of next steps, Horn-Miller says she and the Bundle team are focused on how to use and adapt the Bundles further, adding that there is a growing list of about 25 additional topics she’s received suggestions for.
“We’re realizing faculty, staff and administration all want more grounding and knowledge in Indigenous issues,” she says. “We’re thinking of adapting the Bundles into monthly professional development workshops with a facilitator [from the Centre for Indigenous Initiatives] where anyone can sign up.”
Instructors who are interested in using the Bundles can visit the Collaborative Indigenous Learning Bundles site and fill out the form to gain access to preview the Bundles. The EDC is also hosting an introductory session about the Bundles on July 31.
“Ultimately, the end goal for these is to build knowledge and understanding about Indigenous issues and peoples, and to create space for dialogue and connection,” says Horn-Miller.