New semester program looks at path to reconciliation

Reconciliation is at the heart of a 14-week university program the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society will offer in September 2017.

What might it  mean for indigenous and non-indigenous people to reconcile?

That question is at the heart of a 14-week Reconciliation Studies program that visiting and local university students will be able to take in Old Massett and Masset starting in September 2017.

“It’s not a ‘how to’ program,” says Carrie Anne Vanderhoop, academic lead for the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society, the local non-profit that will run the program with UBC.

“It’s an exploration.”

Co-authored by indigenous and non-indigenous instructors, the five Reconciliation Studies courses were approved by the UBC senate in May. Each will be co-taught by two instructors.

The courses cover First Nations history, indigenous and European legal traditions, as well as current perspectives on reconciliation, and the role reconciliation plays in natural resource management.

Vanderhoop said the HGHES has long wanted to start a north-end program, given the success of the two natural resource programs the society has offered since 2010 at the Kay Centre.

Besides expanding to Old Massett and Masset, Reconciliation Studies will bring a new and broader range of students to Haida Gwaii—students in social sciences, law, business, and the humanities.

The HGHES held one public presentation on the program in Old Massett this spring, and another is planned for Masset on July 14.

Vanderhoop said work on the program started in May of 2015, when the HGHES invited local instructors, academics, the Council of the Haida Nation, and forestry professionals to join a two-day brainstorming.

That same weekend, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on Canada’s residential schools—and its calls to action.

“We didn’t even realize that was happening, but at the end of our weekend together that hit the news,” said Vanderhoop.

“It was a great wrap-up, and something to reflect on.”

Already, Vanderhoop said students in the Natural Resource Studies program ask more questions about reconciliation than a single class can answer.

It often comes up in the First Nations and Resource Management class taught by Chief Satsan (Herb George), a Wet’suwe’ten professor who was a key strategist in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa court case on aboriginal title.

Satsan’s class highlights other cases and agreements that are reshaping aboriginal title in B.C., including the Tsilhqot’in case and two key agreements made by the Haida Nation—the Gwaii Haanas agreement with the Canadian government, and the Kunst’aa Guu-Kunst’aayah Reconciliation Protocol with B.C.

Satsan was asked to co-develop one of the Reconciliation Studies courses, along with professors William Nikolakis, Mariko Molander, and Paige Raivnon.

Among the local instructors who took part were Vanderhoop, Jason Alsop, Jaskwaan Bedard, and Carlos Ormond, executive director of the HGHES.

Ormond said everyone was paid a small honorarium as a thank-you, but that’s not why they wanted to help create the program.

“They were all involved because of the excitement, the opportunity, and realizing the importance of having such a semester, not only on Haida Gwaii but in Canada,” he said.

Ormond said the HGHES still has a lot of work ahead to secure grants to start up the new semester program and, most importantly, to recruit major supporters who can sustain both the north- and south-end semesters in the long term.

Designed for about two dozen students, each requires up to 10 instructors and as many as 50 community speakers, not to mention field trips, housing, and class space.

It’s a big undertaking, but one Ormond and Vanderhoop believe is well worth doing.

“It’s complex,” said Vanderhoop, noting that the word ‘reconciliation’ means different things to people, depending on the context.

“I think that’s how we want to be distinct here,” she said.

“We’re not subscribing to what a certain interpretation of reconciliation is—we want to look at it in a broader sense, with multiple perspectives, multiple interpretations.”

“We can expand people’s concept of what reconciliation can be.”