Grounded in the discipline of Indigenous Studies, the program was first in Canada and only the second in North America when it began in 1999. Although based at Trent University, the program involves faculty from other universities as well as qualified individuals from Aboriginal/Indigenous communities. The program was developed in close consultation with Indigenous community representatives, and is grounded in Indigenous knowledges.
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 sit for comprehensive exams in the last term of the second year.
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 Indigenous community or organization. This helps to ensure that students are grounded in the culture and experience of 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 conduct 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.