What are our responsibilities as guests on Musqueam Territory? Engaging learning about Indigenous topics at UBC with international and intercultural audiences

In the latest Classroom Climate series presented by CTLT’s Indigenous Initiatives, lecturer Jennifer Walsh Marr and educational consultant Janey Lew co-facilitated a workshop on opportunities to support international and intercultural learners to engage with Indigenous histories and contexts at UBC.

Jennifer Walsh Marr, an Academic English Program (AEP) instructor at UBC’s Vantage College, presented her experiences in supporting and facilitating international students’ understanding of Canada’s colonial history and relationships with First Nations.

The innovative programming at Vantage College enrols international students who have been accepted academically at the university, but need additional assistance with academic English language proficiency. The college employs faculty from across the disciplines who teach first-year courses in a student’s degree field — fully preparing them for the transition into their second year of undergraduate studies at UBC. The embedded language support that Walsh Marr and her colleagues provide makes the program unique in Canada.

Walsh Marr’s practical discoveries in her courses point to the broader scope of international students studying at the university: nearly a quarter of students at the Vancouver campus are international.

“International students are not a niche or special interest group,” she said. “And, it’s important to look beyond the binary definition of the domestic versus international student.”

There are often students who identify as domestic for different reasons, but have spent the majority of their lives living or studying outside of Canada before coming to UBC, she said.

Her Academic English course focuses on mining disciplinary texts for language features. From the first day of class, it is imperative to set the tone and guidelines for having potentially difficult, but honest conversations about language use surrounding Indigenous topics, she said.

“Diversity in the classroom — on both sides of the lecturn — is an asset,” she said. “We look at language features like  the connotation of vocabulary in context, concession and contrast and argumentation.”

In presenting some of her students’ work anonymously, Walsh Marr notes that her students were able to examine language in the broader context of how First Nations and Indigenous topics are presented in scholarly texts.

“Learning about the violent actions of colonial forces and how North American land was ‘discovered’ was a cultural upheaval of my perception and understanding of the world. I realized how ignorant and uneducated I was.”

“After reflecting, I realized that sadly, my lack of knowledge might be because a country doesn’t want to show the international community the acts against human rights they had in the past. I was amazed by the fact that at UBC, people recognize that we are studying on the unceded land of the Musqueam territory — however, there is no concrete action to give back these lands to First Nations.”

Educational Consultant Janey Lew also shared highlights from the IN/Relation initiative: a resource development project aimed at international and English-language learner audiences. The TLEF-funded project has so far produced two open learning modules and will include a facilitator guide. The development of the modules’ concepts, themes and content was done in consultation with several partners including the Musqueam and UBC development committee and were presented to the Musqueam 101 community.

The initiative works in alignment with principles set out in Connecting Communities: Principles for Musqueam and UBC Collaboration and the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan (v. July 2018), which encourage programming that continues to educate and inform students and the broader university community about Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples.

Lew presented research and findings from a 2016/17 survey conducted in collaboration between CTLT Indigenous Initiatives and a First Nations and Indigenous Studies undergraduate practicum student regarding student learning about Indigenous topics:

“Discomfort offers learning. Also, there are other ways of ‘knowing’ that exceed western and positivist ideals.”

“Everyone needs to know about Indigenous issues because they are a cultural group that experiences marginalization and discrimination in society and everyone is responsible to everyone else — ethic of care.”

The workshop ended with a practical exercise looking at a case study about Indigenous topics and perspectives where participants explored their potential responses and methods for unpacking historically sensitive topics in the classroom.

Discussion included strategies for setting up an inclusive environment such as arranging desks in a circle for a group discussions, building in time for reflection and using respectful language.

The Classroom Climate series will resume programming in September. To stay in touch and in the loop regarding CTLT Indigenous Initiatives projects, programming and resources, please sign up for the Indigenous Initiatives newsletter.