UBC school adopts First Na­tions cur­ricu­lum

Sauder School of Busi­ness ahead of curve fol­low­ing Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­port

Vancouver Sun - - BUSINESS - MATTHEW ROBIN­SON mrobin­[email protected]­cou­ver­sun.com

A ma­jor cul­ture shift is afoot at the Univer­sity of B.C.’s Sauder School of Busi­ness.

Amie Wolf, an abo­rig­i­nal woman from Fort Saskatchew­an, Alta., is one of the most re­cent hires at Sauder, brought on to help de­velop an am­bi­tious and far-reach­ing First Na­tions cur­ricu­lum that will be em­bed­ded into the learn­ing of ev­ery stu­dent ac­cepted into the busi­ness school.

Wolf’s task is straight­for­ward — sen­si­tize stu­dents to the legacy of residentia­l schools in B.C., the eco­nomic bar­ri­ers fac­ing some First Na­tions, and the way to do busi­ness with them, prac­ti­cally and re­spect­fully.

Speak to Wolf about her work and its im­por­tance and com­plex­ity soon be­comes ev­i­dent.

“It’s one thing on Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day to celebrate the grass dance and the hoop dance and the dress and the ban­nock. No one would dis­agree that we welcome that,” said Wolf in a re­cent in­ter­view.

But busi­ness is “where the rub­ber hits the road,” said Wolf, who sees in­spir­ing her stu­dents to care as a step to­ward tak­ing down the sys­temic and per­sis­tent eco­nomic marginal­iza­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple.

“To ac­tu­ally take a step for­ward, as a busi­ness stu­dent, to ad­dress those wrongs, that is awe­some. And that means busi­ness. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.”

Wolf’s work on a First Na­tions cur­ricu­lum is part of a re­cent re­fo­cus on val­ues, ethics and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity at Sauder, said Dar­ren Dahl, a se­nior as­so­ciate dean at the school.

He said not only is there a “moral obli­ga­tion” for Sauder to help build bridges be­tween Abo­rig­i­nal and non-Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and cul­tures, “it just makes good busi­ness sense.”

“If stu­dents are grad­u­at­ing with no aware­ness of these is­sues and busi­ness con­cepts that sur­round First Na­tions, that’s a fail,” Dahl said.

“It’s come to a time point that this has be­come a salient is­sue and part of that is the evo­lu­tion of how First Na­tions are be­ing ac­knowl­edged in the broader so­ci­ety,” he said. “Were our stu­dents well-versed in these is­sues 10 years ago? Prob­a­bly not at all.”

Given that joint ven­tures with First Na­tions are in­creas­ingly ap­pear­ing across the pro­vin­cial land­scape, the school has a bet­ter sense than it did even a decade ago of what has worked and what has failed, mak­ing it eas­ier to de­velop a use­ful cur­ricu­lum, Dahl said.

Should Sauder even­tu­ally see some of its grad­u­ates work­ing with First Na­tions as a ca­reer fo­cus, that would be a big vic­tory, he said. So, too, would be see­ing more Abo­rig­i­nal stu­dents and fac­ulty at­tracted to the busi­ness school, he added.

Wolf’s ar­rival at Sauder was some­what for­tu­itous. When her job teach­ing adult ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion in Van­cou­ver was axed as a re­sult of pro­vin­cial fund­ing cuts, she ap­proached the school with a port­fo­lio. Dahl in­vited her to teach a guest lec­ture on First Na­tions busi­ness re­la­tions last fall, then in­vited her to de­sign a course on First Na­tion/pri­vate sec­tor joint-ven­ture part­ner­ships. The first round of eight stu­dents fin­ished tak­ing that course this spring.

The work is deeply per­sonal for Wolf. When speak­ing of it she drew on her own past to give in­sight into part of the rea­son why the eco­nomic marginal­iza­tion of First Na­tions has per­sisted.

“I was adopted into a white fam­ily and I was given just one (warn­ing) and that was my adopted dad say­ing to me: ‘This is your cul­tural back­ground — you’re First Na­tions. But you don’t tell any­one about it, you don’t talk about it and … if you do men­tion it, no one is go­ing to want to hire you for a job and no one is go­ing to want to be your friend.’ To me, that was the ex­tent of my ed­u­ca­tion.”

Later, Wolf learned mem­bers of her fam­ily had hid­den from her the fact she had a Cree sis­ter.

That kind of so­cial seg­re­ga­tion and stigma doesn’t just go away in a day, Wolf said.

“I’m deeply com­mit­ted to de­seg­re­ga­tion,” she said. “Un­til we’re equal, we will al­ways be at the mercy of peo­ple who have com­pas­sion or un­der­stand­ing or who are will­ing to do it dif­fer­ently. But (it is not) un­til we have our own eco­nomic base that we’ll be free.”

Wolf re­lies on long­house pro­to­cols dur­ing class and fa­cil­i­tates in a shar­ing cir­cle for­mat. In­stead of re­ceiv­ing a lec­ture and in­for­ma­tion in a top-down fash­ion, stu­dents read up on top­ics be­fore class and take turns speak­ing about them.

It’s about “thaw­ing the colo­nial ex­pe­ri­ence of ed­u­ca­tion,” she said.

Wolf’s cur­ricu­lum and the school’s ap­proach has put Sauder out in front of a re­cent call by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion for ed­u­ca­tors to in­te­grate teach­ings about First Na­tions per­spec­tives and ex­pe­ri­ences into broader cur­ric­ula.

While Dahl said the changes be­ing made at Sauder are un­likely to be dras­tic, the fact that a busi­ness school is teach­ing this sub­ject at all may come as a sur­prise. First Na­tions cur­ric­ula have been taught in law and arts fac­ul­ties for years, but it’s some­thing fairly new to busi­ness school, Dahl said.

Ka­tri­ona Mac­Don­ald, a se­nior ad­viser to the dean and CAO at Sauder, said she has heard from stu­dents that they have been want­ing more ed­u­ca­tion in this area.

“If you do not emerge from a busi­ness pro­gram with some abil­ity to en­gage com­fort­ably in some way with these top­ics, then we have failed as a busi­ness school. That’s just how we see it,” she said.

ARLEN REDEKOP/PNG

Amie Wolf, an abo­rig­i­nal woman from Saskatchew­an, de­vel­oped a First Na­tions cur­ricu­lum de­signed to teach all first-year busi­ness stu­dents about the legacy of residentia­l schools, the eco­nomic bar­ri­ers fac­ing some First Na­tions, and how to en­gage...

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