KPU in last steps of launching Indigenous Studies department

The new department will help deepen the education on Indigenous and decolonizing perspectives

Melinda Bige(Left), Shelley Boyd(Middle), Greg Millard(Right).

Melinda Bige (left), Shelley Boyd (middle), and Greg Millard (right). (Submitted)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University will open an Indigenous Studies department within the Faculty of Arts beginning on April 1. 

On Jan. 7, the Senate approved the proposal of the new department and has moved to be passed by the Board of Governors for final ratification in March. 

 The department will help expand current Indigenous Studies courses offered at KPU to support the Indigenous Community Justice Minor, which was created by criminology instructor Lisa Monchalin in 2017. 

 Additionally, the department will offer courses that students from any program can register for, and will possibly implement a diploma or degree program in the future. 

KPU instructor Melinda Bige, associate dean of arts Shelley Boyd, and interim dean of arts Greg Millard brought the proposal to the Senate. Bige says the university is in the process of approving two new courses she created. If approved, the courses will focus on Indigenous sexuality and gender, and Indigenous families and healing. 

“The goal for me personally as an instructor, is around educating younger folks about the history of Indigenous communities, linking that to contemporary society … and how we can affect change,” Bige says. 

Other possible courses will focus on Coast Salish studies and some revolving around the Canadian criminal justice system. 

“The [other] goal here is to look back at our current situation and understand colonization, so that we can make a different world,” Bige says. 

“My hope is that when students take these classes and move forward, they can take what they’re learning to make good choices about the future for everybody.” 

From November 2020 to October 2021, many individuals and groups at KPU have been consulted on the Indigenous Studies department including instructors, KPU Elder in Residence Lekeyten, and the Indigenous Advisory Committee.

In KPU’s Vision 2023 plan, one of its goals is to “embrace all cultures and promote a renewed, authentic approach to Indigenization.” The document states that the university will reach this goal by developing Indigenous academic content and integrating Indigenous culture.

“It’s long overdue,” Bige says. “I think there’s an opportunity for other faculty to learn from Indigenous instructors who are coming to KPU and teaching these classes.” 

Millard says the department will help reconciliation and education at KPU by building and deepening our relationships with the Kwantlen First Nation and other local First Nations.  

“What we’re doing here is we’re creating a new department,” Millard says. “We are trying to empower the people in that department to then develop curriculum and programming according to their priorities and the priorities of the Indigenous communities we serve.” 

He adds that while there is still more to be done in terms of reconciliation and decolonization, the Indigenous Studies department is a step in the right direction of a “much wider journey.”

“The name Kwantlen enjoins us to live up to that responsibility of being faithful to our commitments to the people on whose land we live, work and learn,” Millard says. “In that sense it’s a big step toward fulfilling that promise, but there’s a lot more to be done.”

Boyd says the new department will help work towards the goals in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action document. Some of the calls to action are for post-secondary institutions to create degree and diploma programs in Indigenous languages, and provide funding to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms. 

“This is one positive step in terms of trying to focus on decolonization within the Faculty of Arts,” Boyd says. “It was long past the time, we needed to have a department in place. I think it’s quite an exciting step on that journey.” 

Moving forward, Boyd says when the department launches, she hopes to see other departments at KPU review their programs and update curriculum to get them reflecting and thinking on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge. 

“When it’s created, that’s when the real journey begins,” Boyd says.