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Trent University Celebrates Long-standing Position as a Leader in Indigenous Studies

Trent University Showcases Academic Leadership and Community Partnerships with Indigenous Initiatives in Honour of National Aboriginal History Month in June

In honour of National Aboriginal Day on Saturday, June 21, part of National Aboriginal History Month, Trent University recognizes and celebrates its history as a leader and innovator in Indigenous education.

Trent’s deep and unique history of embracing aboriginal cultures, knowledges, and teaching and learning methods dates back to the University’s beginnings. In 1969, Trent University became the first university in Canada, and only the second in North America, to establish an academic department dedicated to the study of aboriginal peoples. Co-founded by Dr. Harvey McCue of the Georgina Island First Nations, and Trent’s first president, Dr. Tom Symons, the Indian-Eskimo Studies Program (now known as Indigenous Studies) led the way for other programs in Canada. Trent’s incorporation of Indigenous teachings and history into the framing of its interdisciplinary academic programs, such as Canadian Studies, has been critical in the development of the University.

“It seems to me that teaching and research by and for the Indigenous peoples is fundamental to our understanding about Canada.” - Dr. Tom Symons, founding president, Trent University

Leadership in Indigenous Education
Trent’s long-standing role as a leader and pioneer in Indigenous Studies and related interdisciplinary programs has continued and expanded since the early days of the University:

  • Indigenous Environmental Studies: Trent is the only university in Canada to offer this unique program bringing together principles of both Indigenous knowledge and western science in a unique and collaborative approach to learning. Julian Tennent-Riddell, a new graduate from the IES program, was the winner of the Symons Medal for academic achievement.
  • The Frost Centre for Canadian Studies & Indigenous Studies: Trent University has a well-established reputation for excellence and innovation in the field of Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies. Dr. Mark Dickinson, an instructor in the Canadian Studies Department, received the 2013-2014 Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching in recognition of his transformative teaching philosophy, which were significantly influenced by the two years he spent teaching in Indigenous Studies. 
  • Ph.D. Program in Indigenous Studies: Trent’s advanced study program was the first of its kind in Canada and one of only two in North America. The Ph.D. program seeks to ensure that Aboriginal knowledge, as reflected in traditional and contemporary world views and expressed in practice, are articulated, discussed, documented, recognized and experienced.
  • A Video About Trent’s Contributions: Former Trent chancellor Dr. Tom Jackson says that Trent offers a redefinition of what education is and can be, in this video compilation featuring faculty and students discussing the enormous contribution Trent has made to Aboriginal societies and to Canada. Professor David Newhouse, chair of the Indigenous Studies department, states that "success in our terms is helping other live good lives".

Student Success Stories

  • Transforming Relations: Trent students in the new “Transforming Settler Consciousness” class, taught by Dr. Lynne Davis, have contributed to a new website that highlights various initiatives aiming to change the way Canadians understand and relate to First Nations cultures, histories, and knowledges. The Transforming Relations website, featuring information from a collective research project by fourth-year Indigenous Studies students at Trent, has been launched to help educators, community activists and researchers in undertaking educational initiatives to transform relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
  • National Aboriginal Achievement Award: Dakota Brant, one of the first graduates of the Indigenous Environmental Studies (IES) degree program at Trent and the first student to graduate with a specialization in the Mohawk Language Program, was awarded the Special Youth Award in the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (NAAA) in Edmonton in 2011, for being an Aboriginal Canadian who has made a profound impact on her community, across Canada and worldwide. 
  • Ideas That Change The World Symposium: Indigenous Peoples in Canada will be one of five key themes at this exciting event bringing together over 75 of Trent’s most outstanding alumni and faculty to challenge thinking. The Symposium is part of the Kick-Off Weekend for Trent University’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. #Trentu50

Faculty Expertise and Achievements

  • The Good Life: Mino-bimaadiziwin is an Anishinaabe phrase that means fostering a good life. The concept provides a research framework for the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network (UAKN), formed to explore how Aboriginal people are building and living fulfilling lives in urban settings. Trent University received $2.5 million over five years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) to fund the initiative, spearheaded by Professor David Newhouse, chair of Trent’s Department of Indigenous Studies and the lead researcher for UAKN. SSHRC also appointed Dr. Newhouse to serve on its Aboriginal Advisory Circle. 
  • Revitalizing Indigenous Languages: Rhonda L. Paulsen, professor of Indigenous Studies at Trent, is about to publish a new book that will be an important contribution to Ojibway culture and literature, entitled Spirit of the Island: Manitoulin’s People. Prof. Paulsen hopes that the book will help to revitalize the study of indigenous languages in Canada, and change the context through which the general public views and understands indigenous cultures.
  • Trent Traditional Teacher Awarded Honorary Degree: In recognition of her dedication to the learning and sharing of First Nations knowledge and practice, Dr. Edna Manitowabi, professor emeritus at Trent, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate in Sacred Letters from the University of Sudbury.

Community Engagement and Events

  • Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering: The annual Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering, hosted each year at the First Peoples House of Learning at Trent University, is a communities-wide gathering of elders and youth, created in the 1970s to bring elders from coast to coast to share their wisdom and stories. The gathering provides an opportunity to share indigenous knowledge through a series of workshops, presentations and gatherings. 
  • TRACKS Aboriginal Youth Outreach: The Trent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge and Science Youth Program was recently launched in collaboration between the Trent Indigenous Environmental Sciences program and the Kawartha World Issues Centre (KWIC), a grassroots and charitable Global Education and Resource Centre which promotes dialogue and understanding of world issues to enable people to engage in positive social and environmental change.
  • Indigenous Women’s Symposium: Held at the First People’s House of Learning at Trent’s Gzowski College, the annual Indigenous Women’s Symposium focuses on Indigenous women’s priorities, such as our relationships with water. 
  • Earth Day Sunrise Ceremony: Trent’s department of Indigenous Studies participated in a Sunrise Ceremony with members of the First Nations community to honour Earth Day at Lakefield beach. The ceremony offered gratitude for the Earth and all life-givers, focusing on our water and our waterways that flow to the ocean. 
  • The Sacred Water Circle: The Sacred Water Circle seeks to create dialogue around spiritually-based environmental issues, and to motivate communities and governments to act to set policy that will protect our water, by leading with prayer and walking together.

Posted on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

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