Mount Allison students win back Indigenous environment course with petition

·3 min read
Mount Allison University quickly changed its decision to no longer offer a course on  Indigenous Peoples' knowledge of the environment.  (Submitted by Mount Allison University - image credit)
Mount Allison University quickly changed its decision to no longer offer a course on Indigenous Peoples' knowledge of the environment. (Submitted by Mount Allison University - image credit)

Mount Allison University students were victorious this week when they petitioned the administration to save an ecology course on environmental knowledge of Indigenous Peoples.

Annie Martel, a second-year environmental studies student at Mount Allison who is Métis, said she was shocked when she found out the course Traditional Ecological Knowledge would not be offered next fall.

"I feel like I gained extremely valuable knowledge and it was super eye-opening and created this sense of community," she said of the course.

"The university, we're on unceded Mi'kmaq territory… it seems kind of strange that we wouldn't be learning about the knowledge of the people whose land the university is on."

Martel, 21, said it was her favourite course so far and was so popular there was a waiting list of students looking to sign up.

She's a member of the Geography and Environment Society at the university and says the student-led group posted a petition online in an effort to have the course reinstated.

In the petition, the group argued the removal of this course would be a "step back in Mount Allison's efforts towards reconciliation and decolonizing academia."

It got nearly 300 signatures and the group collected 50 testimonials from staff, students and alumni in support of the course.

Just a couple of days after the petition was posted, the university announced the course would now be offered for the upcoming academic year.

"When we first put out the petition, I didn't think it was going to get a huge response, especially considering it's a busy time for students right now," said Martel.

Annie Martel is a second-year environmental studies student at Mount Allison University.
Annie Martel is a second-year environmental studies student at Mount Allison University.(Submitted by Annie Martel)

But, she said the petition quickly gained momentum and started some "important" conversations around campus.

"It created this base for people to talk about why it's important to have, not only Indigenous professors, but Indigenous knowledge included in academia," said Martel.

It's not clear why the course was initially removed from the academic calendar.

The university's spokesman Laura Dillman confirmed in an email to CBC News "funding was approved to deliver the course this coming academic year."

She said the university has posted a tenure track position for an assistant professor in Interdisciplinary Mi'kmaq Culture.

The university does offer about 20 courses related to Indigenous studies.

An official at Mount Allison was not made available for an interview.

Martel said the course looks at both Indigenous knowledge and Western science and how pairing them can be beneficial when looking at environmental issues.

It involves experiential learning and invites Indigenous guest speakers.

"It's just bringing in a diversity of Indigenous voices as well and just understanding the knowledge that they hold," said Martel.

Martel said the course was initially taught by Jesse Popp, who specializes in Indigenous Environmental Science, until she moved to Ontario.

Mount Allison had then hired Patrick and Margaret Augustine from Elsipogtog First Nation to teach the popular course.

She said the course attracts students from most fields, including aviation, biology and geography.