In 1976 Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr. helped turn sod for construction of the College of Cape Breton, and in doing so symbolically laid the cornerstone for the establishment of a home for Mi’kmaw post-secondary education. In 1980 the first Mi’kmaw students entered the College and in each successive year more Mi’kmaw students have come to study and graduate.
In the 1980s faculty members Sr. Dorothy Moore, Murdena Marshall, Stephanie Inglis, and chair of the Humanities Department Dr. Charles Mac Donald established Native Studies courses at what was now the University College of Cape Breton. Increasing student enrollment led to the development and creation of an academic Concentration and Major in the discipline of Mi’kmaq Studies. In the 1990s, Mi’kmaq Studies faculty joined the Department of Heritage and Culture within one of UCCB’s academic schools. This “Mi’kmaq Initiative” of the early 1990s was conceived by the late Grand Captain Alexander Denny in conjunction with the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, Mi’kmaq communities, educators, and students, to create a Mi’kmaq Studies program, provide services for the students, and blend Mi’kmaw ways of knowing into the university curriculum. With the addition of new department members, Eleanor Johnson and Joe B. Marshall, and with the assistance of Mi’kmaq language specialists from the community, the academic discipline of Mi’kmaq Studies courses was set in two streams: language/culture and governance/history.
In 1998 UCCB established the Mi’kmaq College Institute (MCI) to broaden Mi’kmaq and Aboriginal courses and programming at the university. That year also saw the opening of the Mi’kmaq Resource Centre as a repository of academic and research documents related to Mi’kmaw history, culture, and language. One of our proudest milestones in Mi’kmaw education was development of the Integrative Science program and Dr. Cheryl Bartlett’s 2002 Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science based on the collaborative efforts of Dr. Bartlett and Murdena and Albert Marshall.
By July 1, 2010, the Mi’kmaq College Institute had evolved into Unama’ki College of Cape Breton University, enhancing Mi’kmaw educational opportunities at CBU and broadening its horizon as it reaches out to Aboriginal students nationally and internationally. To fulfill this mandate, the Department of Indigenous Studies was formed. It currently offers Mi’kmaq Studies and Integrative Science/ Toqqa’tu’ki Kjijitaqnn courses, many of them in Mi’kmaw communities. These in-community courses have expanded to include mainland Nova Scotia, enabling more Mi’kmaw students to have access to post-secondary education.
2010 also saw formation of the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies at CBU. Dr. Keith Brown is the first occupant of the Purdy Crawford Chair, which promotes interest among Canada’s Aboriginal peoples in the study of business at the post-secondary level, and undertakes pure and applied research specific to Aboriginal communities. The Chair will focus attention and research efforts on the Membertou Business Model, Unama’ki Partnership Model, and national and international comparative business analysis.
May 1, 2012 saw the official opening of the primary centre for Mi’kmaq language research at CBU, the Kji-Keptin Alexander Denny L’nui’sultimkeweyo’kuon, under the direction of linguist Dr. Stephanie Inglis. In conjunction with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK) and the Nova Scotia Department of Education, the lab has as its mandate Mi’kmaq linguistic research and development and delivery of language courses for non/semi-speakers of Mi’kmaq.
The collaborative partnership between Mi’kmaw communities and Unama’ki College of Cape Breton University has developed a successful model for Aboriginal post-secondary education in Canada. The graduation of over 500 Aboriginal students has established Unama’ki College and Cape Breton University as providers of quality post-secondary education for the next generation of Aboriginal leaders.