Confusion reigns over Indigenous courses | #students | #parents


Laurentian failing and misleading students of Ojibwe language

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Mary Ann Corbiere

Inconsistent information has emerged that compounds the extreme stress students already feel from the chaos at Laurentian University.

The inconsistencies are in two sources indicating the six Indigenous Studies courses (INDG) that Laurentian announced April 16 it will offer this spring to assist Indigenous studies students impacted by its actions concerning federated universities.

The information on Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe) — one (or two?) of the six courses — is highly confusing. Webadvisor, on which courses offered each session are listed, shows both Introductory Nishnaabemwin A and Introductory Nishnaabemwin B as being offered. An advisory a student received from Laurentian administration, on the other hand, identifies INDG 1016 EL 10 (the distance course on Introductory A) and INDG 1016EL (same course, section not specified) as those to be offered. A BA in Indigenous studies requires six credits in either Nishnaabemwin or Cree.

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There is another aspect to the confusion: the question of whether Laurentian intends to either continue with the Nishnaabemwin revitalization strategy and/or retain the minor in Nishnaabemwin that was created several years ago. Given its termination of the project manager of the language revitalization strategy and its ceasing to count INDG courses towards Laurentian degrees, it seems it will do neither. However, it has yet to say anything definitive to anyone in this regard. Part of the information provided on Laurentian’s website regarding the Indigenous studies program states “students can do a minor in … Nishnaabemwin”.

Current students who have completed Introductory Nishnaabemwin A & B, and Intermediate Nishnaabemwin A in the past two years, and may have intended to do this minor, might be under the impression they can still do it. Whoever might have applied this year to a Laurentian B.A. program and was interested in the minor may have the same impression. However, the University of Sudbury will be unable to offer Nishnaabemwin courses after this spring.

The press release of April 16 states: “Moving beyond this spring, Laurentian University is committed to ensuring that the … students who were registered in the Indigenous studies program at the University of Sudbury have access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives …through Laurentian’s Faculty of Arts, in a variety of disciplines.”

None of Laurentian’s Indigenous-content courses (i.e. have 50 per cent Indigenous content) involves Nishnaabemwin — such courses presumably being the courses president Robert Hache has in mind for the Indigenous perspectives program idea. Besides, Nishnaabemwin cannot be taught through an Indigenous perspectives course; learning a language entails courses that focus exclusively on the language. So, if Laurentian is envisioning some kind of Nishnaabemwin program under the “Indigenous perspectives program” rubric, any such initiative will be woefully inadequate for this and other reasons.

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With Nishnaabemwin mother-tongue speakers diminishing in number as this generation ages and institutions having been unable to offer full-scale Nishnaabemwin programs, there likely won’t be any fluent speakers available to teach. One who taught part time in recent years has too many obligations to undertake teaching again.

Upon my retirement this July, the only other persons available with at least a BA and experience supervising distance courses on introductory Nishnaabemwin are two learners. Neither of these very promising learners had advanced courses available to them in their undergraduate years at Laurentian. One enhanced her oral proficiency through an immersion program in Minnesota (where the dialect is quite different) after taking introductory Nishnaabemwin at the University of Sudbury years ago.

The Indigenous studies department recommended these learners as distance course supervisors because I was available to assist them if students ever had questions that were beyond these instructors’ level of expertise to address. Such mentoring was naturally among my responsibilities as a University of Sudbury faculty member. Not being a Laurentian faculty member, I have no place to do similar mentoring should Laurentian hire learners like them for the courses this spring. This session’s Nishnaabemwin courses and any programming Laurentian may be planning to do in the future in this area will thus be deficient in the requisite level of expertise.

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Would such a sorry situation be allowed to transpire for a French-as-a-second-language program? Would any institution with integrity claim to do FSL if all it offered was introductory French and had only learners of French who hadn’t attained at least an appropriately high proficiency level teaching its FSL courses? That Laurentian is prepared to do such speaks volumes regarding its estimation of our language and Nishnaabek.

Since Trent’s Nishnaabemwin professor retired a decade ago or more, Algoma University has been the only other institution besides the University of Sudbury that had full-time faculty to teach our language. It implemented a BA on the language several years ago and offers introductory to advanced courses on it every year. The honourable and honest thing for Laurentian to do would be at least to stop misleading Nishnaabe communities regarding its putative Nishnaabemwin programming, and — since it has jettisoned the University of Sudbury — to leave such programming to Algoma University. Students there can at least be assured that they will learn much more than rudimentary Nishnaabemwin. Nishnaabek deserve more respect than for their language to be exploited in the way Laurentian is exploiting it – merely as a tool to try and burnish its image.

Mary Ann Corbiere is an associate professor and has been an instructor of the Nishnaabemwin language since 1989.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

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