Introduction to Indigenous Studies class to present its work on Student Research Day
Grade 12 student Trey Willier, pictured here with Emily Milne, assistant professor of sociology, is sharing his experience in Introduction to Indigenous Studies at the university's Student Research Day on April 23.
Braving Edmonton’s chilly spring, 11 high school students explored a stretch of conservation land northwest of the city last week, eagerly taking notes on the terrain, plants and animals they encountered.
The students are taking Introduction to Indigenous Studies, a dual-credit course offered at amiskwaciy Academy, in partnership with MacEwan University. The class, taught by Dr. Emily Milne, assistant professor of sociology, allows the high school students to receive both high school and university credits through one course.
The outdoor adventure was part of their main project for the semester – to rename a conservation land in the nehiyaw (Cree) language.
“I slipped a few times and got a bit lost,” laughs Trey Willier, a Grade 12 student in the course. “But it was really eye-opening to see that space, to feel it.”
The Edmonton and Area Land Trust, a local nonprofit that secures natural areas for protection, approached amiskwaciy Academy with a number of lands they wanted to rename. The area the class chose is currently known as Glory Hills, a wetland located north of Stony Plain in Parkland County.
“This entire area is Treaty 6 territory,” says Emily. “As a class, we’ve been talking a lot about reconciliation and the significance of names. This project is bigger than us – it’s part of a process of recognizing original peoples.”
Answering the call
Over the past year, MacEwan permanently raised the Treaty 6 and Métis flags on campus, and is explicitly recognizing where MacEwan sits on the land (both in speech and at our entrances). But how else is MacEwan responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
Read what President Deb Saucier has to say about Indigenizing education, and what it really means to honour and celebrate Indigenous cultures on campus.
The students started their work by approaching amiskwaciy Academy Elders, Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and Elder Jeanette Lean, and asking for guidance. Beyond visiting the land, the class also spent hours researching the cultural significance of the plants, animals and terrain in the area, all of which informed the name they chose: maskihkîy meskanaw, which means Medicine Trail.
“It was an opportunity for my classmates and I to learn more about our culture, and what makes us, us,” explains Trey. “It feels like we’re taking back land and creating a voice that will help us in the future.”
Trey says he and his peers feel honoured to be choosing a name, and look forward to bringing their families and future children to the land.
“My mom and family know more about our culture than I do, so this course helped me talk with them about it. I want to learn about my past so I can share it with my kids and keep the culture going. Naming the land will help me do that,” he says.
Beyond gaining knowledge, Trey says he and his classmates also found confidence by taking the dual-credit course, and visiting MacEwan weekly.
Emily says she remembers the excited gleam in the students’ eyes when they received MacEwan ID cards, and were given free rein to explore the library. The students chose to fully engage in their introduction to post-secondary, and plan on presenting their project to the university community at Student Research Day on April 23.
“That presentation is going to be a big moment,” says Emily. “To have that space to speak about their work and share that story in their voice is powerful. I’ll be sitting in the front row taking pictures and trying not to get too emotional.”
Trey, though admittedly nervous for the presentation, says he’s looking forward to being recognized at MacEwan.
“We’re sharing a positive story – that we are Indigenous and we were able to take this task and recognize the responsibility and handle it well,” he says.
Trey will graduate from high school in June, and plans to study kinesiology next fall. He says he’ll be taking what he learned in this course with him.
“I know more about my culture now and I’m taking my knowledge to university,” he says. “Now I know what I’m working towards – keeping my culture intact.”