On Haida Gwaii, few things move faster than word of mouth.
Every one of the 18 university students who arrived for the new Reconciliation Studies semester being taught in Old Massett and Masset this fall came because of a good word from family or a friend.
“We’re so grateful,” says Carlos Ormond, executive director of the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society, which organizes the 14-week program led by local and visiting instructors. The students come from a range of programs at universities across Canada and two of them, Marijke Vanderlinden and Joel Richardson, are local.
When the society launched its first natural-resource semester at the Kay Centre in 2010, just nine students enrolled.
Ormond said they were prepared for a similar first year with Reconciliation Studies, but the strong demand did not come as a total surprise.
For one thing, Ormond said the HGHES has always asked students and community participants for feedback at the end of each semester, and has always been willing to adapt.
“It’s not something that you see often, where students and the community are helping to evolve the curriculum of the program each year,” he said.
For another, Reconciliation Studies is the first of its kind — a look of what reconciliation might mean in Canada, led by Indigenous and non-Indigenous instructors on Haida Gwaii.
It is also launching at a time when Canada is re-assessing its history in light of Indigenous experience, whether through the Truth and Reconciliation report, B.C.’s new schools curriculum, or the federal government’s changing stance toward the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Ormond said Reconciliation Studies is not about teaching best practice — that simply doesn’t exist yet.
As Carrie Anne Vanderhoop, academic lead for the HGHES put it, it’s an exploration, not a “how-to.”
Meeting at the Old Massett family services building or Sarah’s longhouse, the students will explore reconciliation through four themes — history, law and governance, resource management, and multiple perspectives.
Leading the courses are five local instructors or facilitators, and five visiting instructors who come mainly from UBC, which accredited the program.
By next year, Ormond said the HGHES also hopes to offer professional development workshops in reconciliation — shorter courses geared toward people already working in healthcare, education, journalism, the civil service, and other professions.
A market study is ongoing, but Ormond believes there will be strong demand for the workshops, too.
“Seeing that ‘reconciliation’ is a term that is being tossed around quite a bit, people want to better understand it, and how they can be part of this national dialogue,” he said.
Even so, Ormond said the society realizes the word “reconciliation” means different things to different people.
It seems to be the best term to represent the dialogue happening in Canada right now, Ormond said, but should that change, it could well be the Reconciliation Studies program that finds what comes next.