A letter to my Indigenous students

Dear Indigenous Students,

Thank you for choosing to study in the faculty of Social Sciences.  We are so fortunate to live in what is now known as British Columbia which is one of the worlds “five hotspots” for First Nations cultural and linguistic diversity and home to 34 languages.  As Canada celebrates 150 years of governance, it is an important time to recognise that First Nations have been here in their own territories, with their own forms of governance and laws for over 15,000 years.

As more Indigenous students are enrolling in the disciplines of Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and Linguistic Anthropology, we knew that it was time to update our resources, methodologies and structures to meet the ever-changing landscape and understanding of modern Indigenous relationship building.

These tools are being developed through a series of important court decisions and legislative processes including: Truth and Reconciliation Commission, The New Relationship, Transformative Change Accord, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Canada, IPinCH Declaration.  We recognize the power imbalances that exist in western systems and acknowledge that the discipline of Anthropology has not always had the best relationships, research methods or policies when working with First Nations communities and their tangible or intangible treasures.

These introductory level courses cover a very wide array of topics and attract a diverse student population.  For some, this will be the first introduction to Indigenous issues and we strive to balance content that will create a base knowledge to broaden perspectives.  We also want to ensure that the diverse needs of Indigenous students are met, as many will return to do important anthropological work for their own descendant communities.

As part of an emerging professional practice, we wish to learn from the past to harmonize interests and understanding at various societal levels.  To achieve this, we have collaborated with Indigenous students that have previously taken these courses to update some of the course materials to reflect the following basic principles:

  • Recent; inform students of current realities and contemporary issues facing the living cultures of Indigenous people as a result of the impacts of colonization and globalization
  • Reciprocity; encourage ethical, equitable and practical approaches in the class and the field
  • Regional; BC First Nations have inhabited this land for thousands of years and the stories of culture and place have long been marginalized by institutions in their own territories
  • Relevant; encourage meaningful cultural context and intercultural competence to build capacity, challenge perpetuated myths and foster understanding among students
  • Respectful; mindful of the impact Anthropology has on Indigenous communities and a recognition of important contributions made by Indigenous people

Due to the nature of the discipline, culturally sensitive topics sometimes arise.  As faculty, we are dedicated to a constructive, positive learning experience and an opportunity for dialogue that is inclusive for all people.  We want you to feel comfortable to contact us if you have any cultural safety or sensitivity concerns and we will do our best to remedy them together.

Dr. Erin McGuire and Melissa Gauthier