Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) has launched a new academic department that will strengthen the university’s ability to support Indigenous peoples.
Faculty, students, administrators, and staff celebrated Thursday the launch of the Indigenous Studies Department in the Faculty of Arts, providing the university a key focus for Indigenization and decolonization.
KPU resides on the traditional and ancestral territories of the qw̓ ɑ:nƛ̓ ə̓ n̓ (Kwantlen), xwməθkwəyə̓ m (Musqueam), qi̓ cə̓ y̓ (Katzie), SEMYOME (Semiahmoo), scə̓ waθən (Tsawwassen), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), and kwikwəƛə̓ m (Kwikwetlem) peoples. The late Grand Chief Joe Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation gifted the Kwantlen name to the institution, resulting in a long partnership.
“The name was given to the university with the agreement that Indigenous people were to be educated there, and that an Indigenous Studies Department would be created,” says Melinda Bige, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts at KPU, and the first Indigenous person to teach Indigenous studies courses at the university. “That has now become a reality.”
KPU has been offering courses in the growing field of Indigenous studies, along with a well-subscribed minor in Indigenous Community Justice, since 2017.
“This launch has been many years in the making. Formalizing this department reflects our journey toward achieving systemic transformation at KPU, and we are honoured to carry forward the vision of so many tireless runners,” says Diane Purvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic at KPU.
The many architects and visionaries of the department include instructors Dr. Lisa Monchalin, Dr. Rajdeep Gill, Dr. Greg Millard, and Dr. Alena Buis, Faculty of Arts Dean Dr. Shelley Boyd, Indigenous Studies Department chair Allison Hotti, and Darlene Willier, who for many years supported Indigenous learners at KPU.
Introduction to Indigenous Studies is among the department’s course offerings. Students learn about the histories, cultures, and contemporary situations of Indigenous peoples in North America, with special attention to Indigenous peoples in Canada. The department offers four other courses, covering topics of sexuality and gender, families and healing, perspectives on settler colonial societies, and activism.
Gayle Bedard, Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Leadership at KPU, says the department supports KPU’s efforts toward truth and reconciliation and its work in decolonizing and Indigenizing the university.
“This is an exciting opportunity for students to expand their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous peoples, their history, and their place in the world.”
The department’s launch comes ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, which raises awareness of the individual, family, and community intergenerational impact of residential schools.
The Sept. 28 event at KPU Surrey included a celebration with Indigenous artists, performers, and speakers.