Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Dreams of reconciliation

Among the Principal’s Dream Courses funded last year, two courses were specifically focused on sharing Indigenous knowledge.

For one group of students, their semester-long dive into Indigenous culture is nearing an end – while another class gets set to begin its journey this summer.

[Lee Maracle]
Lee Maracle, an early Indigenous feminist, activist, and writer, speaks to the ENGL218 class. (University Communications)

Heather Macfarlane, Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of English, has just recently completed the first offering of ENGL218: Introduction to Indigenous Literature in Canada. The course examined Indigenous novels, traditional stories, poetry, short stories and plays from various time periods, written by Métis, Inuit and First Nations authors.

“My goal was to provide the students with insight into Indigenous cultures that they might not otherwise have,” she says. “Students love to have answers but I wanted to open things up for them, and show them how much there was to learn about Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I want to get them asking questions, with the goal that they ended up with more questions than when they started.”

Texts for ENGL218 – Introduction to Indigenous Literature
● Dimaline, Cherie. The Marrow Thieves.
● Halfe, Louise. Burning in this Midnight Dream.
● Maracle, Lee. Sojourner’s Truth and Other Stories.
● Moses, Daniel David. Almighty Voice and his Wife.
● Robertson, David Alexander. Betty: the Helen Betty Osborne Story.
● Ruffo, Armand Garnet. Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird.
● Van Camp, Richard. The Lesser Blessed.

In addition to reading the stories, the class of 54 students also welcomed a number of the authors to campus for weekly guest lectures. To engage them in these talks, Dr. Macfarlane had the class conduct traditional greetings, introduce the authors, and prepare thoughtful questions in advance.

The speakers included Onangaate, a knowledge keeper from the Kingston Indigenous community; Lee Maracle, an early Indigenous feminist, activist, and writer; and two authors from Queen’s including Daniel David Moses of the Drama department and Armand Ruffo of the English department. The final speaker was Louise Halfe, who shared poems about her experiences as a student at a residential school.

Of particular interest to the students was Cherie Dimaline, winner of the 2017 Governor General's Award for English-language children's literature. Ms. Dimaline was the author of dystopian post-apocalyptic book The Marrow Thieves.

Dr. Macfarlane’s course will be offered again this fall, potentially with changes to the author lineup. The talks are being video recorded, and Dr. Macfarlane hopes to use the recordings with future offerings of the course if it becomes a permanent addition to the department’s course lineup.

“I am thankful for the Principal’s Dream Course funding, as I would not have been able to bring the authors in otherwise,” she says. “I am hopeful the fall intake will be even more popular than this term’s offering.”

[Students walk along a rocky trail]
Indigenous community members lead students on a nature walk. (Supplied Photo)

In June, another Dream Course will get underway as Heather Castleden begins her first offering of GPHY309: Indigenous Perspectives on the Environment and Health. This field school is an opportunity to meet with Indigenous peoples to learn directly from them about their interconnected relationships with the land, environmental management, and human health.

“This is based on a field school I used to offer at Dalhousie University, and builds on many of the same relationships I developed when I was working out in Mi’kma’ki (Nova Scotia),” says Dr. Castleden, who is the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities. “There seems to be a lot of excitement from the students - that Queen’s is finally offering something like this.”

As part of the three-week course, students will spend two weeks in Mi’kma’ki meeting with members of several Mi'kmaw First Nations.

[Google Maps screenshot of the students' route through Nova Scotia]
Dr. Castleden's students will be on the road for 14 hours as they meet with Indigenous communities across Nova Scotia. (Google Maps)

Their travels will take them to, for example, Pictou Landing, an Indigenous community that has been heavily affected by a local pulp and paper mill; to Unama’ki (Cape Breton), where they will learn about two-eyed seeing from the Elder who originated the principle. of embracing the best of both Indigenous and Western knowledge systems.They will meet with other Indigenous knowledge-holders that apply this principle to interpreting the local archaeological history and geological formations.

If time permits, they’ll also participate in a cultural camp in Bear River on the western side of Nova Scotia.

Along the way, they will connect with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, visit the site of a centralized residential school, go eel fishing at night (if the weather cooperates), and participate in land-based learning activities. The students have also been invited to a pow wow. The focus is on experiential learning with many in-person meetings and engaging in ceremony when invited to do so by Mi’kmaw hosts.

“This field school is meant to challenge the students emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually,” says Dr. Castleden. “When they get back to Kingston, the students will each have the opportunity to reflect on their experience by preparing short video stories, which will be showcased at a special open event on June 15.”

When the course is offered for a second time next year, Dr. Castleden says she may take the field school out to the west coast where she has other established relationships instead – though she is also keen to eventually develop local relationships so students can experience something similar in southeastern Ontario.

[Principal's Dream Course logo]
The logo for the Principal's Dream Courses program. (Supplied Photo)

Each year, the Principal’s Office funds a number of courses through the Principal’s Dream Course program. Interested faculty should submit proposals tied to key themes, such as sustainability, Indigenous knowledge, and diversity and inclusion, and successful proposals are granted up to $15,000 in one-time funding to offer the course for at least two iterations.

The Principal’s Dream Course program is administered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning – learn more about it on the CTL’s website. The 2018/19 recipients will be announced in the near future.