Every year a new group of high school students have to ask themselves the important question as to whether or not they will pursue higher education. For most, the question is simple to answer seeing as it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve success in adulthood with only a high school diploma.
Although the decision to attend college or university in itself might be difficult for most, deciding which educational institution to attend can be even harder, especially if you are coming from a remote community or are part of a minority group. There are many factors to take into account when making this decision, such as the type of academic programs, cost, location and reputation. But more importantly, one might want to consider the type of support services available to individuals from communities that have different cultural values, not to mention a different worldview.
For many First Nations youth factors other than academic programs may be important when considering which educational institution to attend. According to Louise Legault from the Native Resource Centre at John Abbott College, Aboriginal students sometimes find it difficult to cope with the transition from life in their communities to that of city living or on campus living. As a result, Legault feels that students who attend schools which have resources or associations, designed with the culturally specific needs of Aboriginal students, are more successful.
Of course, not all schools have groups or associations dedicated to the needs of Aboriginal students. Fortunately, Quebec and Ontario have several options for post-secondary education that provides associations that cater to the specific needs of Aboriginal students.
John Abbott College
The Aboriginal Resource Centre at John Abbott was founded in 1989 and is very well tuned to the needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit studenttts. For 21 years, this association has developed initiatives to promote the support and success of Aboriginal students by providing academic and social services to help these students achieve their goals with great success.
The Centre has two full-time professionals, Louise Legault and Michael O’Connor, who act as advisors, counsellors and, on occasion, parental figures.
While the centre offers excellent academic resources, such as tutoring, workshops on study skills and budgeting, and access to computers and printers, it also provides an important social space where Aboriginal students can meet with their peers, share experiences and feel more at home.
According to Legault, the Centre is also important for creating a liaison between students and faculty. Not only do the advisors help students achieve greater communication with their teachers, but they encourage other students and faculty to visit and take advantage of the literature and videos they keep at the Centre, to help create greater understanding of the needs one experiences of Aboriginals as individuals and as students.
Aside from these integral academic and social resources, the Centre also holds cultural and recreational activities. Each year, as part of the college’s multi-cultural week, the Centre invites different speakers, musical groups and dancers from different First Nations communities to share their experiences and their art. Other social activities throughout the year include potlucks, pizza days and movie nights, all of which are designed to make Aboriginal students feel like they have a place of their own.
For more info: www.johnabbott.qc.ca
Vanier and Dawson Colleges
Both Vanier and Dawson Colleges provide resources to new students, however, these are designed to support the entire student population body as a whole and do not cater to the specific cultural needs of any minority groups that may exist within them. Both offer basic resources, such as access to a learning centre, student lounges, social activities and academic advising. The student population of both colleges however do have student groups, ranging from snowboard and anime clubs to religious groups. Many groups have been established for several years but it is possible to create new ones as well. These student groups allow students to come together with similar interests and form support systems and social networks that may be beneficial in adding to their academic success.
For more info: www.vaniercollege.qc.ca and
At McGill University, social resources for Aboriginal students are co-coordinated by The First Peoples House. The main goal of FPH is to promote a healthy co-existence between Aboriginal students, Aboriginal communities and the university itself. According to McGill’s website, it is a place that is meant to feel like a “home a way from home”.
While creating a feeling of welcoming is an important objective of the FPH, another is to increase admission and retention of Aboriginal students, increase access to student services and contribute to the overall success of Aboriginal students.
Other services offered by the FPH include a mentor program (where students are partnered with other Aboriginal students), computer and printing facilities and a resource centre. Aside from these services, the FPH also helps provide housing for Aboriginal students, organizes visits from Elders and holds an annual Powwow that consists of singing, dancing, drumming and lacrosse. The Powwow takes place on campus the last week in September every year.
CKUT, the McGill radio station, supports Native programming. Native Solidarity News broadcasts International Indigenous headlines and news features and can be heard every Tuesday at 6pm. It is a live broadcast from the Inter-Tribal Youth Centre. The radio station, along with the Native Friendship Centre, also host Aboriginal Day. Celebrations for the occasion in 2010 included an eight-hour radio-a-thon called “The Voice of the Nations”, a stone-carving vernissage, a roundtable discussion of past and contemporary Native peoples issues and a feast.
For more info: www.mcgill.ca/fph
Similar to McGill, Concordia University offers Aboriginal students services that are designed to help them work and grow together in an environment that embraces Aboriginal cultures. The Centre for Native Education at Concordia is also meant to be a “home away from home” for all First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
The academic services offered here include a computer lab, phone and fax services, a student lounge and academic advising. With respect to social activities the Centre for Native Education hosts movie nights, a Valentine’s Day social, and other events that encourage interpersonal relationships between Aboriginal students, at various times throughout the school year.
Not unlike other post-secondary educational institutions that offer resources designed for First Nations students, the Centre hopes to offer academic and social support that will ensure the success of its Aboriginal student population.
For more info: www.concordia.ca
Université du Québec à Montréal
In 1990 at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) a resource centre, called First Nations Circle, was established in part to create friendships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the student body. UQAM was the first French-language university to offer this kind of support network and it is unique in that it was created to bring Aboriginals from all nations together with the intention of enriching the cultural diversity of the university.
The FNC offers many of the same resources that are provided by other schools with respect to academic support, however, at UQAM there is a stronger emphasis on the arts within the “circle”. Many of the social activities offered by the FNC revolve around film, music and visual arts and include activities both on and off campus.
For students graduating in the spring who are interested in the arts, the type of social activities offered by the FNC may be a good fit, but it is important to remember that they are also dedicated to helping Aboriginal students achieve academic success.
For more info: www.uqam.ca
If you are interested in attending school in Ontario there are several universities that have Native student associations that provide various levels of academic and social support. Knowing what these schools have to offer may be helpful in making the decision of which post-secondary educational institution to attend.
The Aboriginal Student Services at Brock University, which is located in St. Catharines, provides services that are offered as part of the student development centre. This organization’s goal is to ensure that all Aboriginal students, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit, have a successful transition while maintaining their cultural identity. Like the aforementioned schools, this association provides academic support and acts as a liaison between students and faculty.
The main objective of this association is to promote an environment on campus that is culturally sensitive and supportive in order to help Aboriginal students achieve academic success. Aside from academic services, the association holds events, workshops and other social activities in order to help achieve this goal.
For more info: www.brocku.ca
Located in North Bay, Canadore College offers students a personalized environment where they can excel in smaller-than-average classes and have access to their own academic advisor. Cultural resources, peer tutoring and mentorship are also available to enhance their educational experience.
The college boasts the Aboriginal Learning Unit, which consists of two offices (and a tipi) to serve Native students. These areas were designed to ensure a comfortable learning environment for Aboriginal students. Their academic and general counselling needs of the students can be met by booking a session with one of the college’s Aboriginal counsellors.
Canadore’s goal is to offer cultural relevancy within post-secondary programming thereby increasing students’ opportunities for dual diplomas, certificates, and/or specialization as well as employment options for its graduates.
The college offers more than 80 full-time post-secondary programs, including Aviation, Business, Communications Arts, Health Sciences, Hospitality, Tourism & Culinary Arts, Human Services, Information Technology, Law & Justice, Office Administration, Recreation & Leisure Services, and Skilled Trades.
For more info: www.canadorec.on.ca
In Ottawa, Carleton University has the Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE), which offer support throughout the academic experience. CACE, according to its website, aspires to ensure the presence, awareness and inclusion of Aboriginal culture within the university and to ensure that Aboriginal cultures and worldviews are respected and represented on campus.
Various programs and events, such as Awareness Week, Powwows and the visiting Elders program are offered through CACE and it is hoped that these support networks combined result in the continued success of Aboriginal students who attend the university.
For more info: www2.carleton.ca
The Aboriginal Cultural and Support Services (ACSS) at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay has helped create a culturally supportive environment since 1987. While its main focus may be to support Aboriginal students, it extends itself to all who are interested in Aboriginal culture. Like many other Native associations within the post-secondary environment, ACSS offers academic support, a student lounge, workshops, tutorials and advocacy. By acting as a liaison between Aboriginal students and faculty, ACSS helps First Nations students achieve their goals of academic success.
Unlike other universities however, ACSS provides individual and cultural services as well. As individuals, an Aboriginal student has access to transitional support, social activities and Aboriginal counsellors for personal counselling. With respect to cultural support, ACSS has an on-campus sweat lodge, provides one-on-one Elder support, workshops on teachings on traditions, as well as organizing feasts and smudging ceremonies.
For more info: www.lakeheadu.ca
University of Ottawa
The University of Ottawa’s Aboriginal Resource Centre (ARC) is an association that works closely with all faculties and staff with the intention of creating initiatives that are designed to both support and benefit Aboriginal students. It offers academic, career and personal support networks that, according to the university’s website, are committed to be consistent with First Nations cultural values.
In order to achieve this ARC provides similar academic support to that of other universities, such as computer facilities, advising and a student lounge. With respect to social and cultural support, ARC holds monthly activities that include luncheons, information sessions, guest speakers and various other social and cultural activities.
Aside from this, the university has an Aboriginal hockey team which was established in 2004, and plays in Aboriginal tournaments in various First Nations communities. This is a definite bonus for any high school graduate who is interested in the sport.
For more info: www.sass.uottawa.ca
Although the schools mentioned above represent only a few of the post-secondary educational options that are available, they represent those that are most dedicated to the success of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. These schools not only attempt to provide a “home away from home” by offering support and respect to the specific needs of Aboriginal students but also intend to increase awareness and respect of First Nations culture.
Congratulations in advance to the graduating classes of 2011!