KPU Should Take After UBC on Indigenous Community Planning Program

The university needs to give students the ability to get more involved through school
Alyssa Laube, Associate Editor

ICP (4)

A band of Musqueam natives performing on June 28, 2015. (Jeremy Board/Flickr)

UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning is thrilled to be organizing five more years of its Indigenous Community Planning Program, thanks to a $500,000 grant it received from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The program began five years ago as a collaboration between UBC and the Musqueam First Nation, and remarkably remains the only one of its kind on the continent. Although it is relatively small—historically accepting fewer than 10 students per year—ICP has made waves throughout the community, receiving recognition for its impact on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

As a master’s degree, ICP enrols students in core courses and sends them on a 400-hour internship, where they live and work within a Canadian Indigenous community. Its goal is to teach students about First Nations culture, sustainability, and land management while helping to support the communities in any way possible.

Uniquely, half of the students in the ICP program are Indigenous themselves. This helps to assure diversity, productivity, and inclusivity.

UBC’s program is a response to the failure of federal attempts at reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous peoples across the country. Judging by the success of graduates from ICP, it is an effective method of creating ties between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities while ensuring that both sides are able to benefit from the collaboration.

If it is working so well for UBC, why hasn’t ICP been replicated in other parts of Canada? Kwantlen Polytechnic University ought to take the first steps in that direction.

It’s no secret that KPU sits on Indigenous land. The institution is named after the Kwantlen First Nation, has an Elder-in-Residence on campus, and is home to the Aboriginal Gathering Place in Surrey. It organizes and encourages events that celebrate Indigenous culture and tradition, such as the KPU annual Pow Wow, and often includes members of the Kwantlen First Nation in its own assemblies and announcements.

When it comes to giving students the tools they need to work successfully with Indigenous communities, however, KPU is falling behind. Only three courses are offered in Indigenous Studies: Introduction to Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Perspectives on Settler Colonial Societies, and Indigenous Activism. Surely, courses in other faculties touch on Aboriginal Canadian history, present, and future, but within the entirety of KPU’s curriculum, there is nothing even faintly resembling UBC’s ICP.

Opportunities for community-based, face-to-face interaction between KPU students and Indigenous communities are missing from our institution. Rather than solely having members of the Kwantlen First Nation engaging with non-Indigenous KPU students on campus, the students themselves ought to be reaching out, like those at UBC do.

That process needs to begin with KPU administrators and organizers. Set up a program that will offer students a future in Indigenous culture and relations, not by memorizing the glossary of a textbook, but by bringing them into the communities they want to learn from. There are too many resources for discovering more about Indigenous peoples in the Fraser Valley to go unnoticed.

With KPU identifying as one of the major institutions for students outside of Metro Vancouver to gain hands-on, professional experience, it should come as a shock that we haven’t already begun accepting students into a program like the ICP. We have no reason to wait any longer.

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