December 7, 2009


All first-year students should be taught about
aboriginals, says native scholar

'We’re not relics of the past’


Hamilton, Ont. December 7, 2009The first scholar to be awarded a Pre-Doc Fellowship
created to fast-track aboriginals into tenured positions at McMaster University believes all first-year students should take a course in Indigenous Studies to eradicate misunderstanding about First Nations people.

Bonnie Freeman, who lectures in clinical social work, says there is a perception among non-aboriginals that First Nations peoples are an anachronism.

“Aboriginal people are not relics of the past,” says Freeman. “We are alive and well, and contribute so much to society. There is such a lack of awareness and knowledge regarding First Nations people. Here in Hamilton, most students do not even know the location of the Six Nations reserve.”

The misunderstanding and derision directed toward all people, but especially First Nations people, first struck her as a young adult.

She was working at a grocery store, behind the deli counter, and was accustomed to the number of homeless people who showed up at the end of the day looking for bargain scraps of meat. Freeman’s fellow employees would make loud, disparaging remarks and mock them.

“It was very sad that my fellow workers would treat someone like that,” Freeman says in her soft voice.“ Gradually, I came to recognize the regulars. There was one man who came in every day. He was unhappy looking, and never said a thing, but I would say “Hi”, and smile at him, or make a casual comment about the meats or the weather. He always ignored me, just picked up what he needed and left. This was our pattern for some time. One day, he approached the counter while I was working on something and had my back to him. Suddenly, I heard a voice say, ‘Aren’t you going to say hi or even smile at me today?’ I spun around and there he was. It was the first time I heard him talk. It blew me
away how something as simple as a smile and a “hello” could have such an impact on someone.”

The experience stayed with Freeman, an Algonquin and Mohawk, Bear Clan, from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.

“Social work is not just about counseling, it’s much broader; it’s about social justice, advocacy and policy,” says Freeman, who lectures in clinical social work as well as in policy as it relates to First Nations communities, cultural knowledge and traditions, anti-oppression and aboriginal activism.

The Pre-Doc Fellowship for Aboriginals, possibly the only one of its kind in Canada, is designed to nurture and support aboriginals engaged in Social Work studies and ease them into a tenure-track job.

Gary Dumbrill, associate professor in the School of Social Work, says that indigenous approaches to social work need to be taught by indigenous scholars, at the moment, a small pool of talent. He also sees education as being an especially significant arena for repairing relations between natives and non-natives.

“If educational institutions were used as tools of colonization,” says Dumbrill, “then they can and should help right those wrongs and be used as tools of decolonization. This new indigenous pre-doc position is one way we are attempting to do just that.”


For more information contact:

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988



Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869