History & Overview of the Program

In the fall of 1997, the Senate of Trent University, following a proposal endorsed by the Trent Aboriginal Education Council (AEC), approved the development of a Native Studies Doctoral program (now called the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program). The proposed program was formally approved by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies (OCGS) in June of 1998 and Trent’s Indigenous Studies doctoral program began in the fall of 1999.

It was the first program of its kind in Canada and only the second in North America. Although based at Trent University, the program involves faculty from other universities as well as qualified individuals from Aboriginal/Indigenous communities. The program has been developed in close consultation with Aboriginal community representatives, Aboriginal/Indigenous scholars, and scholars with an interest and experience in Indigenous Studies. It is designed to reflect the unique principles and perspectives associated with the new academic discipline of Indigenous Studies.

The program allows students to engage in advanced studies and original research at the highest level of scholarly inquiry. Students have two years of structured course work and their courses and comprehensive exams prepare them for their research by introducing the latest developments in the area.

A unique feature of the program is the placement of students, in the first term of their second year in the program or in the summer between first and second years, with an Aboriginal/Indigenous community or organization. This helps to ensure that students are grounded in the culture and experience of Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples. Another unique feature of the program is the opportunity to work with an Elder through the Bimaadiziwin/Atonhetseri:io option.

After successful completion of the two year course work and comprehensive exams, students begin to research and compose a doctoral thesis. The thesis is expected to be a high quality, original contribution to research that must reflect the ethics, principles and perspectives of Indigenous Studies. Students must successfully defend their theses and complete the entire program within four years.


The Indigenous Studies Department at Trent University was the logical home for the establishment of Canada's first Ph.D. program in this subject as it builds on a record of extensive undergraduate and graduate teaching and research.

Founded in 1969, the Indigenous Studies program at Trent is the oldest in the country. By 1972, Indigenous Studies offered eight courses toward a Bachelor's degree with an enrolment of four hundred students.

In 1984, after three years of consultations across the country with Native communities, the university introduced a graduate studies component of the Indigenous Studies program with the introduction of a Indigenous Studies course cluster in the Frost Centre’s Master's Program in Canadian Studies and Native Studies. This Master’s program had a whole decade of success before the Ph.D. program was inaugurated.

The Ph.D. program is centred in the Indigenous Studies department and is administratively and academically distinct but works in close coordination with the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Native Studies.

An international component to the Indigenous Studies program was added in 1992 with the inauguration of the Indigenous Studies Thailand Year Abroad Program, an integrated academic program which affords students in upper years an opportunity to study and carry out research with Indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia.

Indigenous Studies at Trent currently offers over 30 courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Courses cover a variety of topics including; Aboriginal languages, history, politics, law, literature, theatre, urbanization, education, Ojibwe and Iroquois culture, critical theory, community development, research methodology, women, self-government and Aboriginal Thought.

The program also employs a large number of support staff including an Aboriginal Counsellor, Traditional Cultural Advisor, Academic Program Coordinator, Financial Administrator and Departmental Secretary. Indigenous Studies sponsors numerous academic, social and cultural events including conferences, symposia, guest speakers, scholars-in-residence, theatre productions in the First Peoples Performance Space, Elder gatherings, traditional ceremonies, artists-in-residence and exchanges.