Course Exam—ENGL 308

Indigenous Literature in Canada

ENGL 308 (Indigenous Literature in Canada) is a three-credit, upper level English course that begins with the origins of Indigenous literature in the oral tradition and leads to contemporary Indigenous writing in English.  The course also examines related areas such as findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), released in 2015.  The assigned readings from the TRC will explain a lot of the topics and themes found in Indigenous literature.  ENGL 308 has two introductory English courses: ENGL 211 (Prose Forms) and ENGL 212 (Poetry and Plays) as the prerequisites and there is a challenge for credit option if students are interested.  Students should be aware that this course just underwent revision.

Indigenous Literature in Canada is divided into eight units, one essay weighing ten percent, two essays worth twenty-five percent each, and one final exam weighing forty percent.  The course progresses from oral literature and stories from the oral tradition through written poems, stories, and drama, to two novels.  The final exam for this course must be taken online with an AU approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation center.  To receive credit for ENGL 308, you must achieve an overall grade of at least “D” (fifty percent) and at least “D” (fifty percent) on the final exam.  Students should note that all assignments are required to be submitted in order to pass the course.

Dr. Paul Huebener joined Athabasca University in February of 2015 and is the course coordinator for ENGL 211 (Prose Forms), ENGL 302 (An Introduction to Canadian Literature), ENGL 308 (Native Literature in Canada), ENGL 491 (Directed Studies in Literature), and ENGL 492 (Research and Writing Projects in Literature).  And for the Athabasca University Master of Arts in Integrated Studies program he coordinates LTST 605 (Current Issues in Literary Studies).  He begins, “I am an Associate Professor of English.  My primary area of research is Canadian literature, which is a field that involves the study of Indigenous literature.  Before coming to Athabasca University, I taught at McMaster University and the University of Calgary.”

He describes English 308 as “a senior-level course that provides an introduction to Indigenous literature in Canada.  The course begins with a general introduction to Indigenous literature and then leads students into the study of a wide range of texts, from traditional stories, to twentieth-century poetry and drama, to Katherena Vermette’s 2016 novel The Break, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and was a Canada Reads finalist.”

When asked to provide some insight into the structure of the course, including the assignments and the final exam, he states “The course has three essay assignments involving literary analysis (the first assignment calls for seven hundred and fifty words and the other two are fifteen hundred to two thousand words).  Students also write a final exam, which asks students to discuss important passages from the assigned texts, respond to analytical questions that have arisen during the course, and write a short essay on the assigned novels.”

He continues, “We provide students with a recommended study schedule for completing the course in less than six months, although students have the option to proceed more quickly if they wish.  As with any self-paced course, students who consistently follow a regular study schedule will have the best results.  Your tutor will be available to help with any challenges that arise.”

Shawna Marie Cunningham is one of the course authors and has taught ENGL 308 at AU since 1999. She also taught the first pilot version of the course in 1993 at Yellow Head Tribal Council with standard class delivery.   As stated in her bio, “Shawna has taught Indigenous literature courses for Mount Royal College, Yellowhead Tribal College, Athabasca University, and the University of Calgary.  Shawna received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Lethbridge in 1987, where she majored in Drama and minored in Native American Studies.  In 1995, she was awarded her master’s degree from the University of Alberta in theatre history and criticism; her research study focused on the aesthetics and relationship between traditional oral literature, trickster mythology, and the dramatic literature of Tomson Highway.  Shawna is currently working through an education doctorate degree program in learning and curriculum at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary.”

When asked for advice for any students that are currently enrolled or who are about to enroll, she provides her thoughts, stating “I think it is important for students to be open to other ways of knowing and relating to the world, and to have a sincere interest in Indigenous people’s history and culture.  It is also important to understand that Canada is vast, and there is a great deal of diversity amongst Indigenous peoples across the country in terms of language, culture, spiritual belief systems, and lived experiences.  A great deal of traditional knowledge of Indigenous people is embedded in the oral tradition or traditional oral literature of the people.  Likewise, the lived post-colonial experience of Indigenous people is often reflected in more contemporary Indigenous literature.”

Dr. Huebener would recommend the content of this course to all Canadians, stating “If Canada is to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous people, an understanding of Indigenous cultures is of fundamental importance for all Canadians.  Studying literature is an excellent approach in this regard because Indigenous narratives, from traditional stories to contemporary novels, allow readers to engage with diverse forms of cultural experience and meaning.”

When asked what he believes that students will take away from this course, he states “Students in this course will develop an understanding of the literary elements of the assigned readings, such as theme, symbolism, and narrative form, and they will also learn how Indigenous literature develops a range of values and political concerns.  For instance, the course looks at how certain texts challenge the assumptions of colonization.”

While he didn’t note a specific part of the course that students struggle with, Dr. Huebener notes that “This course assumes that students have already completed introductory-level coursework in the study of English literature.  If a lot of time has passed since the student has filled that prerequisite, they may want to refer to an analytical writing guidebook to refresh their skills.  Working closely with your tutor is always a good idea.”

He also spoke about the recent revision and how it improved the course and what changes were made overall, stating, “Shawna Marie Cunningham is a longstanding author of the English 308 Study Guide, and the new revision of the course is co-authored by Joan Crate, who taught literature and creative writing at Red Deer College for many years and is also a poet and novelist herself.  This revision includes updated commentary and new texts, and it incorporates the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was released in 2015.”

Whether ENGL 308 is a required course for your degree or program, or if the content discussed above is of interest to you, this course will have you immersed in fresh new content surrounding Indigenous literature in Canada!