Moving towards reconciliation means sharing the truth with students new to Canada
How Indigenous education for international students can help empower a generation of professionals committed to reconciliation
At the start of all campus events, gatherings and classes, the following words have become ingrained as an important symbol of respect: “McMaster University recognizes and acknowledges that it is located on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations and within the lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon wampum agreement.” This land acknowledgment holds meaning and familiarity for students who have spent their lives in this country, but for international students, it can be challenging to appreciate these words in the same way.
Home to over 600,000 international students, Canadian universities have a duty to create awareness of these issues among students who have not had the opportunity to learn about the history of Canada prior to post-secondary education.
In the 2020-21 school year, international students composed more than 15% of the McMaster student population. Yet there are little to no existing supports designed for newcomers on campus who may be interested in learning about Indigenous history.
As an educational institution that strongly promotes every individual’s right to the truth, McMaster must create and develop education to equip international students with the appropriate resources and tools to initiate meaningful discourse on Indigenous history, culture and contemporary realities.
McMaster University’s Indigenous Strategic Directions, created in accordance with the 94 Calls to Action by the Indigenous Education Council, outlines goals and approaches to improving Indigenous research, education, student experience, and leadership on campus. However, the directions for Indigenous education currently remain focussed on enhancing the delivery of Indigenous studies and courses, which may not be accessible to students in all fields of study.
With the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation having passed on Sept. 30, we face a stark reminder of how much there is yet to accomplish for the progression toward the reconciliation between Indigenous communities and Canadian settlers.
Canadian universities cannot cultivate a generation of leaders who will advocate for Indigenous peoples and do their part for reconciliation without sharing the truth. Mandating, proactively involving and providing international students with an orientation to Indigenous history on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and at the beginning of each fall term is a necessary step towards fostering safe spaces for these students to learn and build bridges of mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation.
Though most of our educational institutions currently fail to promote awareness of Indigenous history among students new to Canada, I believe domestic students also have an important role to play in honouring Indigenous history and highlighting the structural inequities Indigenous communities continue to face. Meaningful conversations and sharing insightful resources are just some of the ways we as domestic students can encourage our newcomer peers to seek out the truth.
Currently, Indigenous history, including topics such as the legacy of residential schools, is embedded within the curriculum for grades 4 to 10 in Ontario to inspire generations of advocates who are ready to support Indigenous peoples and their rights. Of course, international students will not receive the years of education that domestic students possess, but with the right education and support, they can be involved and empowered to take action.
By igniting a commitment to supporting Indigenous peoples and reconciliation among international students, we can help prepare future professionals who will advance sustainable equity, diversity, and inclusion in their lives, workplaces, and Canadian society.