Mandatory indigenous culture university courses are nothing new in Manitoba -- the University College of the North has had them since 2005.

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Mandatory indigenous culture university courses are nothing new in Manitoba -- the University College of the North has had them since 2005.

"We congratulate the University of Winnipeg on their efforts to work towards mandatory programming dealing with First Nations issues. They would, however, not be the first university in Canada to do so," a UCN official said Thursday.

Last year, the one-credit course, tradition and change, became mandatory for all UCN students -- its content is condensed into a single-day program all staff are required to take. And students in some majors have had mandatory courses as far back as 2005.

'A requirement is quite a bit different than a mandatory course. I wouldn't advocate for a single mandatory course that all students would take' ‐ education Prof. Frank Deer, director of indigenous initiatives at the University of Manitoba

Here's UCN's course outline on tradition and change: "This innovative course introduces students to aboriginal traditional teachings through the use of sharing circles, group activities and other aboriginal cultural practices, and by working with traditional and non-traditional teachers. Students will learn about the historical and contemporary issues of aboriginal people and actively participate in various culturally based experiences, including a feast."

UCN has main campuses in Thompson and The Pas, with satellite campuses throughout northern Manitoba.

The U of W Students Association has proposed all students be required to take a mandatory course in indigenous culture worth three credit hours, beginning in the fall of 2016.

The U of W said Thursday a proposal is being prepared to be taken to a subcommittee of the university senate, to begin the process of being studied for implementation.

Meanwhile, UCN said students who declared aboriginal and northern studies as their major have had two mandatory courses for the past decade. Subsequently, they also became mandatory for restorative-justice majors, and they're now also mandatory in general arts.

"As for the tradition and change program, that course became mandatory for all students -- certificate, diploma, or degree-seeking students -- beginning last year. Prior to it being deemed mandatory, most students took the program anyway," said the UCN official.

Education Prof. Frank Deer, director of indigenous initiatives at the University of Manitoba, said Thursday he'd prefer to see individual departments and faculties offer appropriate programming on indigenous culture, with all students required to take at least one of those courses.

"A requirement is quite a bit different than a mandatory course," said Deer. "I wouldn't advocate for a single mandatory course that all students would take.

"There would be opportunities for faculties' members to develop courses relevant to what they teach," he said.

Deer wrote about the UWSA concept in an op-ed piece published in Thursday's Free Press

He said any course on indigenous culture must also cover historical issues, and there must be careful examination of the course content.

"It's negotiating what we mean by vital, by core, by what is essential," he said.

No one was immediately available at the U of M Thursday to say whether anything similar to the UWSA proposal is being considered at the province's largest post-secondary school.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca