Class Action 

Diploma program for those bent on change

By Karen Herland

Most people involved in community work know that the pressure to find resources and funds to provide services allows very little time for reflection.

The School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA) designed its graduate diploma in Community Economic Development (CED) to allow those working with capital-poor or marginalized communities to combine study with their full-time jobs.

CED students can complete the 30-credit diploma in a series of weekend courses over a single year, like MBA students. Elective courses allow students to opt for an aboriginal specialization within the program.

“That was the highlight of the whole program for me,” said CLSC worker Patrick Bergeron about the course he took taught by David Newhouse (Native Studies, Trent University) and Wanda Wuttunee (Native Studies, University of Manitoba).

“I had heard of both of them before the course. They’re both well-known intellectuals,” said Allysha Larsen. “I really appreciated they way that they taught. I was inspired by their integrity.”

Both Larsen and Bergeron had worked with aboriginal communities out west. Larsen worked with a youth group in Saskatchewan, and Bergeron in Manitoba. “I saw the way missing children cases were handled differently if they were aboriginal children,” Bergeron said.

Larsen said that Wuttunee and Newhouse were able to challenge some myths about aboriginal culture, “Wanda was a really snazzy dresser, but she also always brought her rattle. She was able to integrate traditional and contemporary values,” said Larsen, who herself is part Métis.

Newhouse and Wuttunee encouraged discussion and questions, and helped students confront their own assumptions. “Newhouse taught us about what he called ‘red capitalism.’ Ultimately, we were learning how people thrive,” Larsen said.

During the final wrap-up session, many students commented on how much they appreciated the aboriginal component of the CED.

For Daniel Leckman, the course offered a spiritual connection for the activist work he had been interested in. So much so, that he has decided to join a Jesuit order as a result of the course.

Bergeron was so impressed with the program, that he’s decided he wants more. “This was a great opportunity for someone like myself.” He hopes to do advocacy work at the national level.

Meanwhile, the SCPA intends to cross-list the two courses offered through the CED program with their 42-credit proposed BA Major in First Peoples Studies.

The degree was approved by Senate in May 2006 and is awaiting final approval through CREPUQ (Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec). The program would include a series of specialized courses focusing on Quebec aboriginal communities and culture.

Although the university offers an interdisciplinary elective option in native studies, Perry Calce, Coordinator of Academic Programs and Curriculum Development, sees the new major “as a much more comprehensive approach to First Peoples studies.”


Concordia University