About the Free Knowledge Project
The linked concepts of “reconciliation” and “decolonization” are taking leading roles in conversations about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state. In particular, they have become a central focus of recent interpretations of the Constitution Act, 1982 and Indigenous and non-Indigenous jurists conclude that if significant progress toward reconciliation is to be made, it will require work beyond the courtroom and particularly within the public at large. The importance of such a focus is articulated specifically, for example, in the recent Aboriginal title case Tsilhqot’in Nation where Justice Vickers of the BC Supreme Court recognizes in his judgment that “Tsilhqot’in people have survived despite centuries of colonization. The central question is whether Canadians can meet the challenges of decolonization.”
The necessity of a process of reconciliation connected to wider projects of decolonization is further underscored in the work of Indigenous political scientist Kiera Ladner, who notes that there is much the general public needs to address in preparation for a robust form of reconciliation. She states:
While many Canadians may not be cognizant of their history and may choose to ignore the realities of the present, reconciliation is necessary. It is a necessity for Indigenous peoples as they seek to realize their goals of self-determination, cultural renewal, and economic independence; it is also a necessity for Canadians as they grapple with the demands for a new, or renewed, relationship between Indian peoples and settler nation(s) (Ladner 2010: 281).
At a minimum, reconciliation and decolonization will require new approaches to conveying information to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. In order to foster these new methods, a small group of us has formed the Free Knowledge Project with an eye to offering existing courses and developing and delivering teaching materials about the Canadian state, including representations of Indigenous peoples , law, policy, research and options. It is important to note that the materials are intended to inform Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences about the actions and attitudes of the Canadian state and its approaches to the issues being raised, not to offer information about Indigenous peoples per se.
Our first course was offered in May 2010, when Dr. Marc Pinkoski taught a five-week class on the topic of Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Offered for free at the Solstice Café in downtown Victoria , Marc drew on courses he had been teaching at the University of Victoria over the past decade. He offered the course in this way to answer calls from students to make the information more widely available, addressing topics including anthropological representations of Indigenous peoples, anthropological science, the role these representations and methods have in Aboriginal rights litigation, and the history of the Canadian state’s and BC’s engagement with Indigenous peoples. In October 2010 and September 2011, Marc offered the course again, expanding it to six classes and nine classes respectively.
Recently, we were very fortunate to have had Dr. Michael Asch offer the third free course, entitled Indigenous-State Relations – a six week class framed as “Canadian Studies.” These lectures were based on a number of experiences, but in particular Michael’s many years of teaching and his voluminous research at the University of Alberta and UVic. Next, Dr. Rob Hancock completed a four week course on “Aboriginal Rights, Anthropology, and Development in the North” in March/April 2010. He focused on the emergence of Canadian Aboriginal rights law in the context of Indigenous resistances to resource development in their homelands, and examined the roles played by anthropologists in this history. Rob is currently teaching in Indigenous Studies at UVic, and has recently returned home from the University of Western Ontario, where he completed a post-doctoral fellowship teaching and writing on anthropology and Indigenous political history. Podcasts and video recordings of the lectures are accessible on the site.
The classes have taken place in large part to the generosity of the Solstice Café. We would also like to thank the University of Victoria’s Student Society (UVSS) for their financial support in the form of a”Legacy Project” grant, which was awarded by the University of Victoria Grad Class Committee of 2011, the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG) for their financial support for curriculum development, and the Awesome Shit Club for their recent support of $600 to help fund the project.
In the future, I would like our partnership to develop and offer more open and free classes in Victoria. I would like to build the capacity to offer day and nighttime high school English and Social Studies classes; and, expand day and nighttime university-level classes on Anthropology, Canadian Studies, BC History and Political Science.
Thank you for all of your support,
 Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia 2007 para 20.
 Ladner, Kiera 2010 “Take 35: Reconciling Constitutional Orders,” in First Nations, First Thoughts, Annis May Timpson (ed.). Vancouver: UBC Press.
Neil Vallance, a Victoria lawyer with extensive experience in land claims research and a UVic PhD student in Law, is also involved in the partnership. Emily Benson, Rachel Flowers, Rodnick McLean, Tim Smith, and Michael Fraser’s contributions and assistance has been instrumental in whatever success we have achieved.
The Curriculum Development Committee consists of Joelle-Alice Michaud Ouellet, Emily Benson, Michael Fraser, Rachel Flowers, Tim Smith, and Joshua Smith.