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Dawson to cut popular Indigenous course

A group of Indigenous students that includes many Kahnawa’kehró:non got the chance to present their work at the vernissage on Friday, May 10. Miriam Lafontaine The Eastern Door

It was a full house at Dawson College last Friday as Indigenous students with the school’s Journeys program gathered to host a vernissage showcasing their art. For many, it was their first time seeing their work up in a gallery, an initiative made possible through the program’s learning perspectives course. 

The room was buzzing with excitement, but it was a bittersweet moment, too. The course won’t exist next academic year for Journeys students – the latest casualty of the language legislation still best known as Bill 96, which requires English CEGEP students to pass five French courses before they graduate. 

“There’s no place to teach English complementaries anymore. They’re disappearing completely for every single student that comes into Dawson,” said Anjali Choksi, program coordinator with Journeys. 

The Journeys program is a small one – and it’s popular among Kahnawa’kehró:non. Of the 21 students who saw their artwork presented last Friday, five were locals. It also attracts many Cree youth from communities up north like Mistissini and Ouje-Boujoumou. The one-year program allows Indigenous students to go through the prerequisites required of all CEGEP students before deciding their field of study for their second year. 

Previously anglophones were only required to take three French courses in CEGEP. Working the two additional French courses into the equation meant some tough decisions had to be made over which courses would be cut to make room for them, Choksi said. Unfortunately, learning perspectives couldn’t be saved despite their fight to keep it, she said. 

Zye Mayo-McComber with the print he produced for the exhibit, top right. Miriam Lafontaine The Eastern Door

“CEGEPs had to find a place in our existing course structures for that to happen,” Choksi said.  

There has been one positive trade-off, however. A deal was struck with Quebec that’ll allow students in the Journeys program to replace two of those five mandatory French courses with Kanien’kéha language courses as of next year, Choksi said. 

Dawson student Zye Mayo-McComber said learning perspectives is the class that sees most attendance in the Journeys program. Cutting it from Dawson won’t only hurt Indigenous students – a similar class that’s offered to the entire student population is also being cut as a result of the French language law, he said. Only those enrolled before the fall of 2024 will be able to take it now, the administration confirmed. 

“This class isn’t just for people like me, Journeys students,” said Mayo-McComber, who’s Kahnawa’kehró:non. “There’s also another class just like this that teaches non-Indigenous students about Native culture as well. I think that it’s really important to change racism in this country, to have people learning about us.” 

Through the Learning Perspectives course students got the chance to experiment with photography, printmaking, painting, and more. Other lessons focused on the value of oral traditions, wilderness skills, and the tanning of fish skin and moose hide, said Amanda Lickers, the course instructor. 

“It’s an Indigenous methodologies course that’s at the CEGEP level and it’s more hands on, experiential learning, that’s also arts based. We use research creation, for example through photography, and engaging in land-based activities,” said Lickers, who is Seneca from Six Nations. 

“It’s really just to show the possibilities and what’s out there as an Indigenous artist,” she added. “We don’t have to conform to western standards of doing and being in order to be successful and to do what we want to do in the world.” 

Second-year student Shayla Chloe Oroho:te Etienne has decided to enroll in visual arts as her field of study after graduating from the Journeys program last year. 

“I have many plans as an artist. I want to be a muralist, a tattoo artist, and I want to work in galleries,” the Kanehsata’kehró:non said. “It feels amazing, I’m very proud of myself. I didn’t expect this to happen this year. I just expected to go to school and learn, I didn’t expect to have my work showcased in a gallery.” 

Lickers said some of the lessons from learning perspectives will be incorporated into English and physical education courses for Journey students next year to make up for its disappearance. 

“It’s a wet blanket on our fire that we’re trying to build,” said the instructor, who’s now unsure of her next move. “We’re trying to do all this change, but then you have all this legislation coming in and kicking our coals.” 

The Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) continues to monitor how the new French language law is impacting youth in Kahnawake, said Robin Delaronde, director of education at KEC. 

There’s still an active legal challenge against Quebec by the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) and the First Nations Education Council (FNEC) demanding Indigenous youth be exempt from the law, she said.  

The AFNQL and FNEC maintain enforcing a French education onto Indigenous students amounts to a form of assimilation. 

“It goes back to our inherent rights, and our inherent rights have been infringed on,” Delaronde said. “Who in the end that’s hurt by all this becomes the students, and their aspirations and goals.” 

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on May 17 in issue 33.20 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.