In Winter 2019, three Indigenous students from Wilfrid Laurier University (Ontario, Canada) and three Indigenous students from Syracuse University (New York, USA) will exchange places and work together to develop Indigenous curriculum content.

“This program will be an exciting and unusual opportunity for Indigenous students to influence and have input into curriculum development,” says Jean Becker, Senior Advisor of Indigenous Initiatives.

Through funding from Santander Bank through the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, Laurier developed the Indigenous Mobility and Curriculum Across Borders program in partnership with three American universities and two Indigenous partner organizations.

Laurier associate professors Kevin Spooner (North American Studies and History) and Lucy Luccisano (Sociology) heard about the grant competition for innovative study abroad partnerships and collaboration from the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. Spooner and Luccisano were immediately interested in doing something to fill the gaps left by typical exchange programs.

“We hadn’t in the past seen many Indigenous students applying to go on exchange,” says Luccisano. “Also, usually students go on their own and it’s a very individual experience. We wanted to do something different.”

To refine their idea, Spooner and Luccisano worked with Becker; Erin Hodson (Indigenous Curriculum Specialist); Lianne Leddy (Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies) and Phyllis Power (Manager of Global Engagement Programming).

The team developed the vision of a curriculum development project that would see students working with academic and community mentors. Syracuse University became the primary partner, with the University of Buffalo, Cornell University, Woodland Cultural Centre and Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center also coming on board.

The majority of costs to the students will be covered through the one-time Santander grant, as well as other funding and in-kind support from the partners and several Laurier departments. The partners are working on ways to make the exchange sustainable for the future.


The three Laurier students will be in Syracuse, while the three Syracuse students may go to the Laurier Brantford or Waterloo campus depending on their majors. All six participating students will maintain close contact as they work on their curriculum development projects. At the end of the term, all students will present their work at a one-day symposium hosted by Laurier in Waterloo.

The envisioned end result is six online curriculum modules that can be used as resources and incorporated into courses at any of the partner institutions. Students will also be able to access the content for research purposes.

Hodson hopes the student-developed content will result in non-Indigenous students learning more about Indigenous issues and future Indigenous students seeing themselves better reflected and valued in class.


When the Syracuse students arrive, Hodson hopes their professors will reach out to her so she can suggest ways to better incorporate Indigenous voices, culture and knowledge into their classes.

However, Hodson’s work goes well beyond one exchange program. She already works extensively with willing instructors across the university to improve the representation of Indigenous people in curricula. She sometimes makes knowledge-related suggestions, such as readings or guest speakers, and/or process-related suggestions, such as allowing students to incorporate lived experience into assignments.

Hodson says there is room to make space for Indigenous people and ways of knowing without sacrificing academic rigour, regardless the field of study.

“Indigenous students go to school to help our people in ways that we can, so whether that’s through physics, social work or music, there’s a place for their culture within that study,” says Hodson.

Laurier offers a variety of Indigenous Initiatives and Services on the Brantford and Waterloo campuses, including academic and personal counselling, visiting elders, Indigenous peer mentors, community gardens, and access to smudging and traditional medicines. Syracuse also has resources and services in place to help support Indigenous students.

Indigenous students from any faculty interested in applying for the exchange program should contact Kevin Spooner at or Lucy Luccisano at for more information.