TRUSU’s Breaking Bread campaign continued virtually as TRUSU hosted Tosh Southwick, an educator from Yukon University, as she led an informative conversation with TRU students about the process of indigenizing higher education.
Southwick, a member of the Kluane First Nation, has been a trailblazer of indigenization at Yukon University (YU). Southwick was influential in ensuring that every faculty member and student at YU takes First Nations studies training, even mathematics and trades program members.
“Those were tough to figure out, but we came to realize that if you’re going to be building houses on traditional lands, or studying in the Yukon, you need to be aware of the other histories and beliefs that exist. We don’t force First Nation beliefs on anyone but ensure they are heard and understood as much as English or Western beliefs are,” Southwick said.
Part of the indigenizing process was implementing a comprehensive test, that should a faculty member or student pass would exempt them from taking the training.
“We had no one pass it. Even the most longtime Yukon residents needed to take the course to gain a better understanding,” Southwick also noted that there were detractors initially. “We had a lot of complaints, especially from those who didn’t find the subject matter to be relevant to their studies. But some of the people who fought it the most are now the biggest supporters of the training.”
The YU training is the first of its kind, and Southwick believes it enables everyone to take their commitment to support First Nations further by engaging them.
For example, Southwick noted that a land acknowledgement copied and pasted by every staff member is a great stepping stone, but having those professors sit down and learn about that very land forces them to connect with it and make their land acknowledgements a little more genuine or personal.
“It has been so effective for us. We’ve seen professors take their land acknowledgements to new levels, even tying it into lessons,” Southwick said.
TRU students who joined in on the call also had the opportunity to share some of their experiences surrounding practices at TRU. Multiple students noted TRU’s practice of land acknowledgement, which is often seen on course syllabi but not often discussed.
“There can be a void in language I think,” one student noted. “Someone who hasn’t been taught how to pronounce words like Secwepemc will be less likely to want to bring it up in discussions.”
Southwick noted that B.C. has been a trailblazing province in terms of innovating indigenization. The TRU Law program has a mandatory First Nations studies course, which Southwick believes is essential.
“How are you going to practice law in BC and not have a background or basic understanding of B.C. history, and the discrimination and injustice thousands of British Columbians are facing right now?”
“A mandatory course is a great path to indigenizing higher education,” she said. “TRU is amazing for innovation and has bright lights, but you can always go further.”
When it comes to indigenizing, Southwick says, “Just start. Start the conversations in class, talk about the land you’re standing on, don’t wait for someone else to do it. If we’re not uncomfortable, we’re not doing reconciliation.”