Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report in 2015, the public conversation around reconciliation has exploded. The appetite for information and guidance on how to repair relationships between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous Canada shows no signs of slowing.
Several universities have responded to that interest with relevant public programming – from the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada – a perpetually popular massive open online course about the history and contemporary concerns of Indigenous peoples – to the more recent Peuples autochtones 101, a self-directed course about Indigenous communities in Quebec offered in French by Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Now, Canada’s only First Nations-owned public university is adding its unique perspective.
On June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day, First Nations University of Canada launched Advancing Re(al)conciliation, a new online course organized around six themes including relationships, colonialism, education and economic systems. The course builds on the university’s growing Indigenous Continuing Education Centre (ICEC), which opened last year.
ICEC director Reila Bird said FNUniv’s continuing education courses stand out from other available options by leaning on the university’s strengths. “[W]hat sets ICEC apart from other continuing education programming in Canada is that our courses are designed to reflect an Indigenous worldview and perspective as they align with the TRC calls to action.”
The university specifically mentions the TRC’s calls to action 62 and 92, which call on “government, corporate, and business sectors in Canada to activate and realize reconciliation efforts within their sectors, companies, and businesses in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples.” To that end, marketing materials for the course appeal directly to organizations, businesses and government. “Interest in our courses increases daily,” Ms. Bird added about ICEC current offerings. The ICEC currently offers 14 courses and one professional certificate program covering topics including project management, trauma-informed care, and reconciliation.
To date, its most popular course is 4 Seasons of Reconciliation, which unpacks Canadian colonial history in relation to Indigenous peoples in English and French. Many of those interested in Advancing Re(al)conciliation “have already taken the 4 Seasons of Reconciliation course,” Ms. Bird noted. She added that these parties are now “looking to further their knowledge and understanding of Canada’s colonial history and how they see themselves responding to reconciliation.”
With its latest course launch and more programs in the works, the university’s burgeoning continuing education department represents a period of growth and development for FNUniv more generally.
ICEC and the future of FNUniv
FNUniv was founded in 1976 as an agreement between the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the University of Regina. As a federated college of U of R, the agreement provided the new institution with an independent administration and a specific mission to serve First Nations students and communities.
Indigenous studies, education, languages, social work and art remain central to FNUniv’s academic offerings, though the university has expanded its academic programming over the years to include Indigenous business, health, communications and literature, among other fields. In 2019, the university partnered with Star Blanket Cree Nation to place FNUniv’s Regina campus on an urban reserve named atim kâ-mihkosit (Red Dog) Urban Reserve – the first urban reserve specifically dedicated to the advancement of education.
All of this growth marks a far cry from where the university was about 10 years ago. At that time, the institution was still coming to terms with significant financial and administrative challenges. Now, under the leadership of Jacqueline Ottmann as president, the university appears to be continuing on a steady upswing.
Part of that growth trajectory includes the recent opening of ICEC. “The ICEC team has worked relentlessly [since launching] to develop and offer courses as quickly as we can while responding to and serving clients as we become known across the country,” Ms. Bird said.
While the ICEC represents a financial success for the university, according to Dr. Ottmann, it’s also a much-needed social and political spark: “[We] hope that what we created will help learners to start or continue their journey to decolonize.”