After Lakehead University and Trent University implemented policies in 2016 and 2017 requiring undergraduate students to complete a 0.5 credit course focused on Indigenous content, there have been calls for U of T to adopt a similar approach.
As noted in “The Breakdown: Why only some programs require Indigenous courses,” which The Varsity published at the end of January, officials at U of T have been discussing whether mandating Indigenous courses is the most effective way of integrating Indigenous content into the curriculum.
On one hand, Jeffrey Ansloos — an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Canada research chair in Critical Studies in Indigenous Health, and member of the Fisher River Cree Nation — says that mandating new Indigenous course requirements would be greatly beneficial to students, especially at this point in Canadian history where working towards truth and reconciliation should be a priority.
In contrast, Shannon Simpson — senior director of Indigenous initiatives at the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at U of T — explained that mandating additional courses may cause students to view Indigenous content as just another requirement, which may take away from the educational experience. Instead of mandating new courses, Simpson suggests that U of T integrate Indigenous-focused content into the curriculum of existing courses.
As an undergraduate student, I have taken courses in which Indigenous content was integrated into the existing curriculum. For instance, I took HLTA03 — Foundations in Health Studies II at UTSC, which explored the reasons why Indigenous peoples, alongside other minority groups, experience worse health outcomes compared to other ethnic groups. One section of the course also described the differences between commercial and traditional use of tobacco, and how the latter has been part of Indigenous medicinal and spiritual rituals for centuries.
Although the information about Indigenous peoples explored in the course was nowhere near as in depth as it should have been, it still encouraged me to integrate Indigenous perspectives into my understanding of Canadian society.
I believe that existing courses at U of T should adopt a similar approach to HLTA03 by finding ways to incorporate aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Report — including legal, social, educational, and health care — into existing curricula. These advancements would ensure that students in various disciplines understand the issues affecting Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous histories, cultures, and teachings are integral parts of Canadian society, and as such, Canadian institutions like U of T should prioritize them. Non-Indigenous Canadians, like myself, have a responsibility to work toward truth and reconciliation, and this begins with educating oneself.
Urooba Shaikh is a second-year student studying molecular biology, public law, and psychology at UTSC. Shaikh is a Comment-in-Brief columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.