Native Studies is in its third decade within Canadian universities, having assumed many of the attributes of a discipline while at the same time challenging conventions of the academic tradition.
In the 1970's emergent Native Studies programs and departments engaged in a struggle for initial recognition, resources and legitimacy. There may be symbolic significance in the fact that the first program of Native Studies in a Canadian university was introduced in 1969, the same year that the Trudeau government presented the White Paper on Indian Affairs in Parliament. Both events were an expression of liberal consciousness, but the environment of arts and science faculties has permitted the initial sentiment to be reshaped by cultural and political currents in the Aboriginal communities which have gained direction and strength, while aboriginal policy in the federal government has foundered in a sea of federal-provincial politics.
The impetus to develop Native Studies came from various sources: anthropology, social science, religious studies, faculty initiatives in education and law, in some cases from Native organizations seeking accessible and appropriate education for their members. Aboriginal advisors and representatives consistently placed a priority on Aboriginal languages in the university curriculum even though the prevailing academic view was that all but a handful of Aboriginal languages were destined for extinction. The tenacity with which people have advocated for the centrality of Aboriginal language has contributed immeasurable to the recognition and articulation of the unique contribution of Native Studies to the pool of human knowledge. The focus on Aboriginal language has inevitably directed learners, including faculty members, to the elders who retain not only an exquisite fluency in Aboriginal language but who also embody evolved, distinctive perspectives on life, the universe and everything.
Currently, in every Native Studies Department and Native Studies program,
there is a commitment to respect the integrity of indigenous knowledge
and to integrate into particular studies the perspectives derived from
regionally distinct as well as widely shared Native traditions. This
integration entails the practice of education as an experience affecting
the whole person and not primarily as an intellectual exercise.
The development of Native studies within arts and science faculties has been paralleled and sometimes preceded by specialized program development in Education, Law, Social Work, Nursing and most recently, Management and Economic Development Studies. Professional education which contributes to the capacity for Native Self-government will continue to be in demand in the 1900's.
Native Studies is rooted in the context of liberal arts and science education, participating in forums such as the Canadian Indian/Native Studies Association and the Social Science Federation of Canada, communicating through the Canadian Journal of Native Studies, and other organizations and, increasingly, inducting graduates into apprenticeships in higher education to become the next generation of scholars.
...at TRENT UNIVERSITY
Native Studies has taken its place as a middle sized department at Trent, currently teaching more than 1,100 student courses principally on campus at Peterborough. Off-campus courses serve students in Oshawa and Six Nations. On average, 200 students of Native origin are enrolled in full-time undergraduate study on campus annually.
Trent is exclusively a liberal arts and science university with a small complement of graduate programs. Issues of equity in employment and education have gained prominence in Canada at the same time that Native communities have identified pressing needs for applied education to support the move to self-determination and self-government. In response to these needs, Trent has joined forces with Native representatives and other universities in program planning. A new specialization in education within the Bachelor of Education program has been designed and was launched in September 1995 through Queen’s University with Trent’s active collaboration. The program is also offered on a part-time basis for students as community sites selected jointly by the universities and Native community representatives.
Native Studies at Trent enters the next century with optimism that Canadian universities, including our own, will become progressively more relevant and sensitive to Aboriginal reality, that barriers to Aboriginal student participation in higher education will be effectively removed and that cultural expression made possible by Native self-determination will further enrich Canadian life.