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Huge jump in enrollment for Indigenous history class since grim Kamloops discovery

Last Updated Jun 6, 2021 at 11:49 am MDT

EDMONTON (CityNews) — Canadians want to learn more about residential schools and Indigenous history, as indicated by a huge spike in enrollment for a free course offered by one Canadian university.

As the country continues to grieve the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., Canadians are showing they want to know more about First Nations peoples.

The University of Alberta has seen a massive increase in enrollment for their online course on Canada’s Indigenous history.

“As someone who is Indigenous, and as an educator, what I have seen is a major outpouring of support, but also this thirst for knowledge and an understanding on how this could have happened,” said Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser, assistant professor of history and Native studies at the U of A.

On average, 1,000 students sign up for the free course, including “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy. This week, the number of sign-ups exceeded 39,000.

“We talk about the fur trade and economy, treaty making and how we are all treaty people,” said Fraser. “We talk about residential schools and Indigenous women and how there are certain gender aspects of colonialism.”

The University of Lethbridge is another Alberta institution that puts an emphasis on promoting Indigenous values. Its Dhillon School of Business became the first business school in Canada to require an Indigenous course as part of the core degree.

“If you want to engage with business in Canada, we owe it to our students to prepare them for a world where Indigenous business is a very, very strong reality,” said Don McIntyre of the Dhillon School of Business.

Nestled in the heart of Blackfoot Territory, the university says it’s essential to create great relations with Indigenous communities, and students need to learn how to do business with Indigenous people — including the exceptions that sometimes need to be considered.

“As educators at the Dhillon School, we were feeling like there was a disservice being done,” said McIntyre. “We have legislation that affects us differently, we have processes and policies that affect Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities … differently.”

Both educators say they are sad it’s taken the grim discovery in Kamloops to bring awareness to some injustices.

But they are also optimistic about education surrounding Indigenous culture and history in Canada going forward.

“My hope is that my students will change the world,” said McIntyre.

Added Fraser: “As an educator, as a historian, it really is the next generation that brings me a lot of inspiration and a lot of courage.”