An Anglican-affiliated college in Ontario is introducing a non-credit course this spring in Indigenous/non-Indigenous reconciliation.
From April 26 to June 28, Renison University College, in Waterloo, Ont., will offer “Reconciliation: Discussions and Implications of Settler Peoples in Canada” to members of the public.
Instructor Kelly Laurila, who proposed the course, says she hopes it will give those who take it a greater understanding not only of Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations in Canada, but of themselves.
“It may prompt people to question the Canada that they’ve always known…or things that they have assumed that are not correct at all,” says Laurila, who teaches social development studies and social work at Renison.
As non-Indigenous Canadians learn about the history of Indigenous people in Canada, at some point they tend to realize that they are implicated in the present suffering of Indigenous people—the injustice seen in recent court cases, she says, as well as widespread housing, health and poverty issues. Often, she says, they also start asking themselves why they did not know elements of Indigenous history, such as the dispossession from their land that followed settlement by Europeans.
“The discomfort or the awareness that that brings into a person’s mind actually can create incredible transformative kind of learning—they’re learning something that they did not know that they did not know,” she says.
Laurila says the idea for the course came partly out of her perception as a teacher that many non-Indigenous Canadians don’t have a good understanding of why there is a need for reconciliation. She often senses anxiety among many non-Indigenous people about discussing reconciliation issues, and felt a course open to anyone might be a good way to offer people in the community a place where “they would feel comfortable enough to ask the uncomfortable questions.”
The central text in the course, she says, will be the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, formed in response to reports of widespread abuse in the Indian residential school system.
Laurila was born and grew up in Ontario, raised in what she calls a western environment, but is descended from the Sami (sometimes called Lapps), an Indigenous people of northern Scandinavia. She has also spent much of the past 25 years, she says, learning the teachings of Canadian Indigenous people, in particular the Anishinaabe. Because of this blended identity, she says, Indigenous people have sometimes called her a “bridgewalker,” able to relate to the concerns of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
A college of the University of Waterloo, Renison maintains links with the Anglican Church of Canada (the dioceses of Huron and Niagara are represented on its board), and offers, among other things, courses in diaconal ministry.
The course in reconciliation, says Brendon Bedford, Renison’s officer for external relations, “is part of the college’s growing effort to indigenize its curriculum,” responding to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since last fall, it has also been offering a credit course in Kanien’kéha, the language of the Mohawk people, and plans to offer a for-credit course on reconciliation soon.
More information on the course can be found at: uwaterloo.ca/cape/indigenous-studies.