|January 7, 2000||Volume 7, Number 8|
Counterpoint: An alternative to Eyres exclusionary ethos
By Rob Norris
After analyzing the arguments within Wayne Eyres November 26, 1999 "Viewpoint," I am concerned that the philosophy behind, and rhetoric within, this editorial attempts to propagate and legitimate ethnic exclusion and racial insensitivity at the U of S. A similar concern arises from this work as it attempts to merge antiquated concepts of "equality" with ideas about sustaining and strengthening traditional academic excellence.
While hoping to remain respectful of the author, I passionately disagree with his point of view; indeed, not only are his arguments problematic but his vision of elitism and exclusion at this University is very troubling. As the population of Saskatchewans First Nations continues to increase, this University should work to ensure that our First Peoples have increased access to enhanced educational opportunities on this campus.
Essentially, this University should continue to help enrich the "vaults" of Mr. Eyres ancient and aging academy by respecting the "encryption tools and languages" of other Peoples.
Eyres primary point encourages the University community to "re-think" its current policies concerning Aboriginal students. Without analyzing, or even identifying, these numerous and innovative initiatives, he concludes quickly that the University should not attempt to meet the needs of its Aboriginal students for fear of losing its "integrity."
Essentially, Eyre assumes that by making itself more "accessible, the University will... inevitably damage its reputation and purpose." He also suggests that this and other "particular" groups of students must simply meet the "best" standards of this University.
Beyond being burdened by its exclusionary tone, this initial argument sinks beneath the illogic of a stinging non sequitur. In this raw version of the authors operational code, increasing accessibility for Aboriginal students at the U of S means "either" simplifying the disciplines or easing our standards of assessment. Apparently enhancing and enriching the Indigenous, inter-cultural and international educational opportunities for every student on campus is an unacceptable, or more likely unimagined, "third way."
After attempting to untangle the essence of Eyres first argument, his second pitch does not take long to size up. This time he concludes all too quickly that this University should not strive to host a conference on Indigenous educational opportunities in the Americas during the upcoming year.
Had the author briefly traded his soapbox for a telephone he could have quickly understood (and perhaps even explained) the context of this proposal now being considered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This proposed conference was initially introduced to University officials by Canadas Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Dr. Peter Boehm.
During his visit here last spring, the Ambassador suggested that because Canada is hosting various inter-American activities during the next few years, the University of Saskatchewan, along with various stakeholders from across Canada and the support of the federal government, might consider hosting an inter-America event focusing on Indigenous Education.
After meeting with several interested parties both within and beyond Saskatchewan, and hosting an initial Dialogue on Indigenous Education in the Americas October 29-30, 1999, the U of S International and its partners, the Native Law Centre and the Humanities Research Unit, are still awaiting word from Ottawa.
Hosting this or similar events would bring additional resources to this campus, bolster the profile and reputation of our University within and beyond Canada, while also increasing the educational opportunities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students within Saskatchewan.
If held in Saskatoon, this conference will also demonstrate that cooperative initiatives between governments, the University and other community stakeholders can be very successful models for helping this and other educational communities recover from what Eyre describes in his third and final volley as "merciless government cutbacks."
Rather than simply considering "government" as a "philistine ignoramus," new modes of communication and cooperation need to be established and sustained between the University and other key actors within our local-global community (including both Regina and Ottawa).
In order to meet these and other new educational challenges, the University community should work tirelessly to ensure that inclusion and cultural understanding remain key components of campus life. Such sustained efforts will help us to focus on the future rather than turn "backwards."
Rob Norris is Research and Communications Officer with University of Saskatchewan International.
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