Student Movement at Lakehead University to Defend Indigenous Studies Curriculum

In February 2013, a group of students at Lakehead University raised concerns about changes to an Indigenous studies course to incorporate it into the new Lakehead law school. The original plan was for law students to take a full-credit class on worldviews from the perspective of Aboriginal people, but then the university Senate replaced it with a half-credit law course on how those worldviews fit within the Canadian legal system. The course was previously taught by faculty from the Indigenous Learning program, but under the new changes, it would be taught by law faculty.

Lakehead University student Sebastien Murdoch-Gibson, one of the student leaders who has been vocal in opposition to the change, said that “What they have now done is, before a single class [is] taught, begin scaling back their commitments to Aboriginal people and begin reducing the opportunities to take a look at Western institutions from a [first nations’] perspective.” The Lakehead Dean argued that for the course to be part of the law school, it had to become a law course, and that this change will actually serve to “validate” Aboriginal law. According to him, Lakehead is still unique in that it is the only law school in Canada with a mandatory Aboriginal law course.

Concerned students, inspired by Idle No More, presented the President of the University with a letter calling for an emergency Senate meeting to revisit their decision. They hosted a sit-in the President’s office which lasted for weeks, and have led rallies calling for reinstatement of the previous Indigenous curriculum. Members of the Aboriginal community were also behind this effort. The sit-in ended when the University added a new mandatory course to the law school curriculum called Aboriginal Perspectives, which will touch upon Aboriginal culture, traditions and perspectives through experience-based learning. While the student movement did not achieve its aim of reversing the curriculum change, it did manage stimulate considerable dialogue on the issue of how Aboriginal law is taught in relation to Canadian law. The campaign also received media coverage from CBC and other news outlets.

URLs:

Students protest changes to Lakehead faculty of law indigenous course: http://wawataynews.ca/archive/all/2013/2/28/students-protest-changes-lakehead-faculty-law-indigenous-course_24176 

Students protests inspire change to Lakehead law course: http://cupwire.ca/2013/03/26/student-protests-inspires-change-to-lakehead-law-course/ 

A small revolution brewing at Lakehead law: http://www.slaw.ca/2013/03/31/a-small-revolution-brewing-at-lakehead-law/ 

Students to continue sit-in to defend indigenous law curriculum content: http://www1.newswire.ca/en/story/1123351/students-to-continue-sit-in-to-defend-indigenous-law-curriculum-content 

Lakehead University accused of watering down aboriginal law course: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/lu-accused-of-watering-down-aboriginal-law-course-1.1314435 

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