Dennis McPherson is a staunch believer in the power of education. With a degree in arts, social work, philosophy and law, he is a staple at Lakehead University.
As an associate professor in the Department of Indigenous Learning, McPherson has spent years educating the community honestly.
He believes the change that needs to happen within Canada, and especially Thunder Bay, can only be accomplished through education.
McPherson is an Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation in Fort Frances.
He was a founding voice and an instrumental part of the development of the Department of Indigenous Learning at Lakehead University, as well as a master’s program in Native Philosophy.
From ‘Indian on the Lawn’ to now
McPherson does not tread lightly when it comes to the history of the Indigenous people and how they’ve been treated through Canada.
When asked if he believes anything has changed, McPherson says no. Walking through decades of unrest and social injustice has McPherson on edge when it comes to the discussion about racism within Canada.
In 1995, he ventured on a prominent research project called 'Indian on the Lawn'. In response to the misallocation of Indigenous funding, he set up a tent on the campus lawn of Lakehead University.
Then, after one month, McPherson ventured onward to complete a 10-week walk of 1,600 kilometres to Ottawa.
“Throughout the summer of ’95, I learned that racism is alive and well.”
Raising voice to change
Twenty-five years later, McPherson doesn’t believe much has changed aside from the required reactions to Covid-19 in the delivery of content and development of strategies for teaching courses online within the academic world.
“[Online education] is an opportunity to re-evaluate what education is all about. I see education as a very individual, personal trip. You can’t force anyone to learn anything they don’t want to learn.”
By having a platform accessible to anyone in the world, the idea of learning is taking on a new definition, just like how we watch the news and speak out against injustice.
“This isn’t the first generation to be outspoken. Have you ever heard of Vietnam?”
While previous generations could only make their voice heard in the street, the opportunity to help and speak has a larger platform that reaches millions and now that’s being used to educate in schools.
Educating through COVID-19
Losing the voices, lively discussion and debate McPherson creates for his students is a concern. While students have the option of hiding behind a computer screen, it’s worrisome to an educator that the participation won’t be as lively as in a classroom.
Teaching subjects such as Indigenous Canadian World Views and Corporations and Status Indian, he points out this lack of connection going into the 2020 school year.
“[The material is] value laden. It’s not technical, it’s not procedural. The information hits pretty hard for some people and I’m concerned as to how I can soften that up and still get the point across.”
But McPherson is using this platform as an advantage and plans to continue jolting students into a new understanding of Canada’s history and awareness of the land we stand on.
Forward thinking from past to future
By using his own experiences paired with history and current events, McPherson is moving forward and shaking the mindset of his students and the academic world.
With a new educational tool that many shy away from, McPherson is taking this as an opportunity to better educate the masses.
“You can guide them but the initiative to critically think and follow through has to be on the student.”
This will be the test going into the 2020 academic year but one thing stays certain: he believes change begins with education. And he won’t stop until he sees it.