Grad students take new step in native studies

(Edmonton) Julie Timmermans had a thirst to know more after finishing her undergraduate degree in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies in 2011, so graduate work was a natural next step.

Timmermans’ continuing educational journey into Aboriginal issues is extra special, as she becomes one of the first graduate students in her chosen faculty.

She is one of five full-time and three part-time graduate students populating the newly minted Master of Arts in Native Studies program this fall, adding a new level of scholarship to Canada’s only faculty of native studies.

For Timmermans, being able to continue her education in the faculty is like coming home.

“As an undergraduate student, I felt like I was very accepted in the faculty; we have a small group of students and faculty who get to know each other very well. I met a lot of amazing people and it is what sparked my research interest.”

Growing up in a middle-class Alberta community, Timmermans, who is non-Aboriginal, found her first degree in native studies “transformational.”

She enrolled in the Faculty of Native Studies after taking a first-year arts course in native literature. “I realized there was more to the story that I didn’t really know about.” Timmermans wanted a deeper understanding of Canada’s Aboriginal history and the contemporary implications of colonialism.

“We can’t really understand society’s conditions of today if we don’t look critically at the past.”

The new graduate program enriches the dynamic research and scholarship already happening in the Faculty of Native Studies, said Chris Andersen, associate dean of research.

“We are bringing in talented students and creating a learning synergy, supplementing the first-hand research we already engage in with our undergrad students. The Faculty of Native Studies is totally immersed in the study of Aboriginal issues, so there is critical mass to how we do Aboriginal research. The master’s program builds on that.”

The full-time and part-time students joining the master’s program this year hail from across Western Canada. Several are professionals who will be enhancing their skills and knowledge through their graduate studies, Andersen said. Two new assistant professors are joining the faculty to help supervise the students.

The program’s major research themes revolve around the relationships of Aboriginal people to the land, and the approach of indigenous peoples to social order, including governance.

Community service will play a large role in the practicum component of the program, Andersen noted.

“All the students will have to complete a semester-long practicum with an Aboriginal community or organization. It’s a good way to build research links, and students have a way to give back to Aboriginal communities.”

Deeply passionate about social equality, Timmermans is focusing her graduate research on urban Aboriginal youths living in the inner city, and the challenges they face as a marginalized group.

“They deal with an array of factors that determine their quality of life and the supports they are able to receive, which all change when they come from the reserves to the city. I want to explore the barriers to serving them.”

As a budding researcher, she is excited about what is to come.

“The Faculty of Native Studies did well in encouraging further learning and honing my research skills. Aboriginal studies is such an open field; there are new things every day that are happening. I wasn’t wanting to leave the faculty.”