A new online “micro-course” created by Indigenous educators from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies offers learners a critical look at Canadian history and structural racism from an Indigenous perspective, and an opportunity to think about how they can be allies in bringing about positive change.

Assistant professor Nykkie Lugosi-Schimpf, academic lead of the continuing education course, says the idea for it came about after the trial and eventual acquittal of Gerald Stanley underscored ongoing anti-Indigenous racism in Canada, as well as the structural racism inherent in the Canadian justice system and a police force that, from its inception, was designed to exert control over Indigenous peoples.

“Looking at the Facebook feeds and the Twitter threads, what folks were saying and how they were understanding that case, pointed to a need for education on Indigenous issues,” she says.

Tackling Structural Racism is an online, self-directed micro-course grounded in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and aimed at educating non-expert learners.

Sandra Rein, associate dean of research at the U of A’s Augustana Campus, took the course in December, along with a number of other unit managers and associate deans from the campus.

“I have been working on equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives for Augustana and with an Indigenous collective here, and thought that the course would be a great opening for further conversations about racism and the way that it permeates our structures, procedures and governance mechanisms,” she says.

Lindi Prendi, executive director of the Centre for Academic Excellence and Quality Assurance at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., took the course with two of her colleagues. 

“The initial motivation was I would like to learn and educate myself, and raise my own self-awareness about not only the issues, but also as to what I can do in terms of helping with actions and change.”

The course offers an opportunity to learn about Canada’s history from an Indigenous perspective, but also discusses systemic and structural anti-Indigenous racism as it exists today. Its modules take a closer look at education, social services, and policing and the judicial system.

“These three areas really have been the focus point of different policies and very anti-Indigenous and assimilationist policies,” says Lugosi-Schimpf, “right from the creation of the RCMP originally to police Indigenous folks with the reserve and the pass system. We saw the ’60s Scoop and what some journalists are calling the Millennium Scoop with the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care.”

She adds that the education module presented a challenge for the course’s creators, because although they would have liked to look at everything from kindergarten to Grade 12 through to post-secondary, they decided to focus on K-12.

“There’s a lot to unpack there just in terms of what people are learning about Canada and about Indigenous Canada.”

Lugosi-Schimpf says many social studies and history textbooks provide a one-sided view of history. When they do address the Indigenous peoples in Canada, they tend to focus on the distant past or on the residential school system.

“While curricula about residential schools are absolutely essential, there is a lot more to learn about Indigenous peoples, past and present. The current narrow focus in the school system either relegates problems of structural racism to the past or frames Indigenous peoples as perpetual victims,” she says.

Another goal and innovation of the course is that it doesn’t just point out problems, but sheds light on solutions.

“A lot of communities, both urban and rural, have a lot of exciting initiatives,” says Lugosi-Schimpf, pointing to groups such as the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre, which conducts ongoing work to help raise awareness and offer support for families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2S+.

Another example she cites is the University nuhelot’ine thaiyots’I nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, which focuses on reclaiming Indigenous traditional knowledges, languages, land-based learning and cultural programming.

Lugosi-Schimpf recommends that students work on each module over the course of a week, which Prendi says was what she did. Rein says she found the time it took to complete the course manageable.

“I dedicated my breakfast reading to the course, made some notes but mostly just took it in,” she says.

There are reflective exercises for students to complete throughout the course, offering opportunities to engage with what they’ve learned on a personal level.

“As a political scientist but also someone who was born and raised in northern Alberta, seeing how deeply stereotypes are embedded in our institutions, public policy and education was a reminder that without deliberate thought and action, we will replicate what we ‘know,’” says Rein, reflecting on what she took away from the course.

“As a settler, I also found the practical elements of how to provide support — how to be an ally in the best sense — very useful,” she adds.

“We really need to work on ourselves first, but then within our areas of influence, or areas where we can provide opportunities for our teams to work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and with the elders or other stakeholders to see things change,” says Prendi.

Though Lugosi-Schimpf notes that part of allyship is acknowledging that settlers have a part to play in their own education rather than leaving it to Indigenous peoples to teach Canadians their own history, she says the advantage of Indigenous educators creating a course like Tackling Structural Racism is that they have the chance to tell their own stories.

“A lot of the education pieces and the history books and the textbooks aren’t written by Indigenous peoples,” she says. “It’s not really reflective of our own experiences.”

More than 70 students have taken the course since it launched last October. The next offering begins Feb. 13 and is open to everyone.

Those who complete the course receive a digital badge that can be added to their LinkedIn profile, and they can also include the micro-credit on their CV.

Both Rein and Prendi recommend the course to others.

“It is not overly time-consuming but is rich in content and is thought-provoking,” says Rein. “The course shouldn’t be the end of thinking about structural racism, but really the beginning.”

By Chelsea Novak