Some Lakehead University students are upset about the removal of an Indigenous Learning course from the new law school’s curriculum.
A group of about 35 students staged a sit-in Monday in protest of the Native Canadian Worldviews course being changed from a full-credit undergraduate course to a mandatory, half-credit course taught by a law professor that will focus on legal aspects.
Fourth-year political science and pre-law student Faye Fraser said she believes the change in the course is a grave injustice to the community.
“This law school means a lot to a lot of people and providing an institution that’s going to speak to the issues regarding our communities and our region is significant,” she said.
“We are in the process of obtaining an education that will give us the tools to navigate and to construct and facilitate our future society. The Indigenous Learning program at the law school is an imperative to provide us with the tools to do that,” said Fraser, adding the course is integral to the law school and anything less than the original program is a significant compromise.
Lee Stuesser, dean of the faculty of law, sat with the protesting students Monday afternoon and answered questions.
He said everyone is on the same page when it comes to the importance of Aboriginal issues in the law school and he sympathizes with the students’ cause.
However, the students need to realize the university is trying to build a law school.
Some people think the Native Canadian Worldviews class was intended to be brought from the Indigenous Learning program into the law school, but that was never Stuesser's interpretation.
“That’s never been my perspective because law schools across the country, they don’t have non-law courses as mandatory parts of their programs. You need to focus on the law,” he said.
“I’m crafting a program which respects the Aboriginal world view, but putting it into a law course.”
Although the course has been altered, Aboriginal issues are still prominent in the program, which Stuesser said makes Lakehead’s program unique.
“We’re doing things that other law schools don’t do at all,” he said. “We undertake to integrate Aboriginal issues in all of our courses.”
Sebastian Murdoch-Gibson, a second-year Indigenous Learning student, took the undergraduate Native Canadian Worldviews course and said it changed his life.
“It’s a course that teaches you to really think and to engage with western institutions – law, government, economics – from a critical perspective and re-evaluate maybe what assumptions you had previously brought into your life,” he said.
Although he was disappointed in what Stuesser had to say, Murdoch-Gibson also wasn’t surprised.
“He is adamant that the course which was eliminated would compromise the credibility of the law school and particularly that law students coming in would not take the course seriously because it’s not a law course,” he said.
“I think it is disappointing that Mr. Stuesser has taken this opportunity to speak on behalf of his students and immediately has put them in a position where by proxy they are refusing to take alternative perspectives seriously.”
The students said they would continue their sit-in outside of LU president Brian Stevenson’s office until the course was reinstated.