New aboriginal education director has goals to make campus more inclusive

TRU’s aboriginal education has a new executive director as of Dec. 1, 2014. Paul Michel has replaced former executive director Nathan Matthew. Michel’s previous work includes positions at the University of Northern British Columbia as First Nations Director and Adjunct Professor in First Nations Studies.

A month into his position, Michel has several goals for TRU and is focused on having a larger aboriginal presence on campus, both in student population and cultural awareness.

“My mission really is to increase the indigenization on the Thompson Rivers campus,” he said.

Michel believes providing presentations informing students and faculty on what indigenization encompasses is the first step in the process of having complete inclusiveness.

Paul Michel, in front of the indigenous artwork of the House of Learning. Michel believes a part of indigenization is making students aware of all the aboriginal artwork they see around campus. (Thompson Rivers University)

Paul Michel, in front of the indigenous artwork of the House of Learning. Michel believes a part of indigenization is making students aware of all the aboriginal artwork they see around campus. (Thompson Rivers University)

“We are on Tk’emlups traditional territory. I want them to know that when they come in through the East entrance [of House of Learning] that there’s the Tk’emlups flag being flown.”

For Michel, indigenization truly begins where students spend most of their time in the classrooms, within course assignments and lectures.

“Indigenization is also making sure that all of our curricula has aboriginal peoples’ knowledge within the curricula,” he said.

Michel plans on sharing a presentation with faculty and encouraging them to infuse aboriginal knowledge into their courses.

“I can’t encourage someone to do indigenization if they’re still needing to know what that means and what it looks like and what it feels like and how we can transform and change,” Michel said. “You don’t need to be aboriginal to change your curricula to include and integrate aboriginal curricula.”

Michel knows bringing this awareness to faculty will be challenging with some professors in disagreement of aboriginal inclusion being possible.

“There is going to be faculty members that go ‘Aboriginal knowledge is not part of my curricula. If it applied I would do it,’ so they’re going to be hardcore,” Michel said. “I can’t think of a course that you can’t integrate some aboriginal knowledge within the course.”

According to Michel, those resistant to indigenizing their curricula tend to be the faculty members within the sciences.

“I am not saying change your curricula, I’m just saying make sure you have aboriginal knowledge.”

Michel used an example of chemistry classes.

“When you work in the laboratory or field research and you learn about the elements and all of your laboratory experiments…and what you learn by your instructor and journals. Well where do all of the elements come from? They come from the environment,” he said. “And this is where aboriginal knowledge, indigenous peoples’ knowledge comes from … so why not include the natural world knowledge within your classroom?”

If indigenization on campus begins the way Michel intends it to, his other goals of aboriginal student recruitment and retention are possible. He is also interested in having more aboriginal faculty and having strong support services for aboriginal students as they transition into university.

Michel is still in the process of creating a strategic plan addressing his goals for TRU.