BCLA Perspectives

Reciprocity and the First Nations Curriculum Concentration by Estelle Frank

Estelle Frank, edited by Michelle Kaczamarek


The First Nations Curriculum Concentration (FNCC) at the University of British Columbia’s School of Information enables students in the Master of Archival Studies (MAS), Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS), and dual (MAS & MLIS) programs to specialize 12-degree credits in course content that centres Indigenous information practices. Another required component of the FNCC is the completion of a 120-hour Professional Experience placement with an Indigenous community, an Indigenous-led organization, or a project with an explicitly Indigenous orientation. Since the program’s creation in 1998, over 120 students have participated in the FNCC, of which 11 graduates identified as Indigenous. 

The FNCC was one of the main reasons I chose to attend the UBC iSchool to pursue my Master of Library and Information Studies. As a mixed-race settler, it felt important for me to use my time at UBC to learn about how to support Indigenous initiatives in the information field. Through my involvement with the FNCC both as a student and as a Graduate Academic Assistant, I have witnessed how the FNCC promotes reciprocity and relationship-building amongst its students, faculty members, and community organizations. A significant way this is modelled is through the FNCC bi-weekly teas. These teas are a chance for FNCC students to gather, learn, listen, and share.  While some teas act as an open space for discussion, others feature student or alumni guest speakers who give back to the FNCC community by sharing about their Indigenous-oriented work. This is one example of how, as Elder Larry Grant puts it, knowledge sharing promotes transformation amongst students (The University of British Columbia, 2014). The FNCC continues to explore how what reciprocity means and how it can be fostered in an academic environment that is taking steps towards decolonization. With the support of funding from UBC’s Advancing Education Renewal grant, we have been conducting a research project, consulting with FNCC students, alumni, faculty, and partners to learn more about how they understand and envision reciprocity in the FNCC. 

Research project: Reciprocity and the FNCC

The research team comprised the FNCC coordinator, Amy Perreault, Information School faculty member, Dr Lisa Nathan, and three graduate assistants, Xaanja Free, Michelle Kaczmarek, and myself. We aimed to identify perspectives on strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and reciprocal values within the FNCC, guided by the following questions: 

What understandings of reciprocity do interested parties articulate?

What do interested parties consider to be meaningful reciprocal action in this academic context?

How do understandings of reciprocity inform FNCC processes/our research?

What do interested parties identify as strengths of the FNCC?

What opportunities do interested parties describe for the future of the FNCC?

The initial steps of the research project involved analyzing past FNCC reports to identify recurring themes and recommendations, reading literature on the topic of reciprocity in academia, conversing with the Musqueam Archives & Research Department, and obtaining approval from the Behavioral Research Ethics Board. 

Subsequently, we held focus groups, individual interviews, and paired interviews with FNCC students, alumni, and UBC faculty and staff members who have experience working with FNCC students. We provided all participants with written summaries of what we heard shared throughout these conversations to ensure that their perspectives were being accurately represented. Currently, we have completed the last of our data collection activities and are wrapping up the data analysis phase. The insights from these activities will inform the future planning of the FNCC, with the goal of enhancing the learning and teaching capacity for Indigenous content and developing a more supportive learning environment for Indigenous students, staff, and faculty at the school. Beyond the school, we hope that this consultation will contribute to building meaningful partnerships with Indigenous-facing programs and centres across UBC and lay the foundations for future reciprocal partnerships with local Indigenous communities and Indigenous-led organizations.


As I reflect on my time with the FNCC as a student involved with this research project, I am grateful for the chance I’ve had to see how reciprocity has been experienced by students, alumni, faculty, and staff members involved with the FNCC.  The many examples of reciprocity that have been shared involve learning with humility, giving back to others by sharing knowledge gained, listening, and speaking up when needed. As a soon-to-be graduate, I only hope to give back all that the FNCC has given me by continuing this learning journey and sharing it with others in my future career. I look forward to seeing how the principle of reciprocity continues to guide the FNCC and its community going forward.


Grant, Larry. (2014, February 19). The University of British Columbia. The Power of a Name: həm̓ləsəm̓ House at UBC. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLG5UGIHVtlPSf2EFBRUSoHtlJAd0E8EOn&time_continue=2&v=XCjilM2M9Ho&feature=emb_logo