By contributor Spencer Sheehan-Kalina
VIU’s Faculty of First Nations Studies announced to students that it will be changing its name to Indigenous Studies. Keith Smith, a professor who teaches First Nations Studies introductory courses, explained “the initial impetus behind it is that First Nations can been seen as fairly exclusive; the term doesn’t include Métis, Inuit and non-status people. We just wanted to be more inclusive.”
Currently, there is little direct opposition to the name change, however there are uncertainties surrounding what the change may signify in the future. A student, who asked not to be named, said, “I like that the faculty is trying to be inclusive, but I worry what removing the focus on First Nations people means. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”
Many students refused to comment, saying they were uncertain about what to say or avoid saying the wrong thing. Some members of the faculty refused to comment or simply did not respond to interview requests.
Another student in First Nations Studies, who goes by the name Liz, said, “I’m not sure which word is a better choice, or which words have been chosen by who. I like the attempt towards inclusivity but ‘Indigenous’ sounds non-specific and open to interpretation.”
“I think it’s good,” Smith said, while simultaneously acknoFwledging the potential downside. “The only negatives that I can think of are that First Nations communities might see themselves as being set aside in this struggle for inclusivity. They might feel slighted, but I hope not, because that is not our intent. The intent is not to lower them, it is simply to raise others up.”
While the name may change, there is one thing that remains certain: VIU and the department’s commitment to the original vision of the program. As stated on the department’s website:
“It is important to understand that the department’s aim is to offer students an educational experience grounded in both local Indigenous knowledge and solid academic context. In this way, students carry forward the Snuneymuxw philosophy held by founding Elder, Dr. Ellen White, “walking in both worlds with both hands full.”
While the full implications of the name change may not yet be known, students and faculty can rest assured that the intention of the program currently remains the same as what it was when the program was funded back in 1993.