Higher Education, Open Access, and Indigenous Studies

Scholarly interest in Indigenous Cultures has been around for centuries, but over the last few decades it has become both more prevalent and less paternalistic (although arguments can absolutely be made that there is plenty further to go – as evidenced by a scandal last year at UBC during which an inappropriate chant was used during frosh week and spurred a closer look at indigenous awareness programs in universities).

Most universities in Canada have an Indigenous Studies/First Nations Studies program, and they are also common in areas with similar colonial histories, like Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, and South America.

While languages are absolutely taught within these programs, that will be discussed in a different post shortly. [EDIT: see that post here!]

However, open access courses on Indigenous histories and culture can be a bit harder to find. Luckily, they are growing in popularity, and several are currently available/have been available recently/ or will be available soon.

  • Australia-based Open 2 Study has a MOOC entitled Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand that began this past October and focuses on Maori, Aboriginal, and Torres Straight Islander histories, languages, issues, and more.
  • The University of Toronto put together a MOOC that debuted on Coursera in 2013 called Aboriginal Worldviews and Education that looked at how Indigenous knowledge has been affected by Western educational systems, and how assimilation, treaties, provincial education, and residential and boarding schools.
  • Art + Reconciliation was an “RMOOC” [I believe the r is for Reconciliation, but am looking for a confirmation on that] done through Thompson Rivers University, and later continued as a Summer Program at UBC. It features Aboriginal Activist Art, and was a series of events and projects rather than a linear course. While the RMOOC is no longer running, the website has a great deal of information and some wonderful artwork.
  • Reconciliation Through Open Education is a MOOC put together by Dr. Jan Hare, a Professor in Indigenous Education at UBC, and Sara Davidson, a PhD student at UBC in Language and Literacy. It will focus on indigenous education initiatives, primarily in Canada and Australia, and how important those are to reconciliation. It will be run through the Harvard/ MIT EdX website, and will begin January 2015.


There are also a large number of journals devoted to Indigenous Studies, and some of them are open access.

  • Project MUSE has some open access resources, which can be accessed by selecting the “only resources I have full access to” button on the sidebar.
  • The International Indigenous Policy Journal is more business/governmental perhaps than academic, but all of its articles are open access, and it is an excellent resource.
  • The International Journal of Indigenous Health is another open access journal that focuses on Indigenous content, and it is peer-reviewed and fully edited, which resolves some of the concerns around legitimacy that are voiced about open access texts. It is supported by the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC, Canada.
  • The Journal of Indigenous Social Development focuses on the Indigenous people of Hawaii, and is supported by the University of Hawaii at Manoa through their Social Work school. It is an excellent resource, and has a great deal of relevance for indigenous communities worldwide.
  • MAI Journal – A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship is published by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE). It focuses on Maori and Oceanic issues, and is funded in part by the University of Auckland.  They also publish AlterNative which has a more global perspective.

This a selection of what is available, and all of these resources are ones that I have looked over and look forward to using in the future. I will update with another page as soon as I compile another list!


Open Access, Music, and Indigenous Communities

One of the largest areas for collaboration and re-mixing, popular culture has a massive impact on society. Open access resources, including journals, music-mixing software, video-editing software, and more, can help communities create their own content and resources that reflect their heritage and ever-evolving culture.

As with any open access initiative, the idea is to open up new avenues of creation and experimentation to make new possibilities. Open access can be about preserving the cultural heritage of an ethnic group, but it can also offer opportunities to showcase the rich contemporary culture of those groups. For example, Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer that has won national awards and international acclaim. Traditionally, Inuk throat singing is performed by two female singers, who work off of one another. Tanya has taken her talent with this medium and set it against contemporary style bands to create a wonderful, haunting blend.

Tanya Tagaq’s Animism album trailer can be viewed here. A short biography about her can be found here via the CBC.

There is any number of studies that have been done that show that having cultural representation in popular culture has a huge impact on youth in those communities, so when an artist like Tanya wins a major national award – such as the Polaris Prize in 2014 – it is a huge step forward for the cultural sharing and celebration of, in this case, the Inuk community. More importantly, while Tanya is the most recent and most famous example, there are many other artists who have done similar things in their careers.

Lucie Idlout is also Inuk, and incorporates throat singing as a complement to her lyrics. Her videos can be found here, and sales from her albums go to a women’s shelter in Iqaluit. 

There are any number of other musical artists that incorporate Indigenous language and contemporary and Western instruments and musical theory. Open access musical tools can help communities with little to no funding for these types of projects and software.

Included below are several excellent online open access tools, just click on the name of the resource to check it out!

Some great musical theory courses can be found at:

MIT MOOC courses in Music and Theatre Arts

Yale MOOC courses in Music

Open Music Theory website – a crowd-funded open textbook for musical theory.

More importantly, open access resources for audio recording are available:



There are also music sequencing free/open access software, like Milky Tracker (a bit unfriendly to those new to software, but has a huge range of compatible platforms and functionalities). Giada, designed for DJ’s as a portable plug-ing for sound looping, can also be used as a sequencer, drum machine, and live sampler.

Access to tools like these is fantastic for anyone wanting to develop musical ability, and to play around with their own talents and interests without needing expensive equipment. More importantly, resources like Giada and Audacity can also be downloaded for off-line use, meaning remote communities and individuals without internet access or with intermittent internet access can make use of them as well.