First Nations Critics Say White Professor Shouldn’t Teach Native History

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Activists are criticizing a Halifax university on social media for assigning a First Nations history course to a white professor.

According to CBC News, the criticism has prompted Mount Saint Vincent University to agree to a meeting between indigenous faculty and Prof. Martha Walls, who is scheduled to teach the course on residential schools in Canada. The schools were opened during the late Victorian era when some First Nation children were taken off reservations and educated by non-natives.

Halifax Native activist Rebecca Thomas told the Canadian Press that for a White professor to teach the course is a “perpetuation that non-Indigenous people have the right and expertise to speak on Indigenous topics [and] what it’s like to be a product of these systems within Canada.”

Walls told CBC News she is aware of the “important concerns” and is taking them “extremely seriously.”

Some Facebook users charge that Wall’s appointment violates the spirit of “reconciliation” because a “settler scholar” is being allowed to tell First Nations history and, in doing so, is appropriating that story.

“Part of reconciliation is making space for Indigenous faculty members at universities and Indigenous knowledge perspectives,” Patti Doyle-Bedwell, who is Mi’kmaw and a professor at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, told CBC News. “We’re talking about indigenizing the academy.”

Mount Saint Vincent’s vice-president told CBC that the school is already proactively recruiting native academics to teach at the facility.

One of Walls’ aboriginal colleagues has also come to her defense and believes the non-indigeonous Walls should be allowed to teach the course. Prof. Sherry Pictou proclaimed her “full confidence” in Walls and believes she is fully capable of teaching the course.

“I am proud to be working at the Mount and have had much support in ensuring that I am not overly tasked with all Indigenous-related issues as so many Indigenous professors are,” Pictou wrote to CBC News in an email.

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