Every former student knows what it was like during those first few heady days at CEGEP or university. There was the excitement of discovery, new surroundings, possibilities of romance, and a major upswing in group activities (i.e., party on dudes and dudettes!). There was also the flip side: an unfamiliar and sometimes unfriendly big city, a tiny bug-infested apartment, the end-of-month money crunch, and the endless debate whether to scrimp with baloney or splurge for beer. Somewhere in this mess, there were profs, lectures and classes, libraries, never enough computer terminals, always threatening assignment deadlines, and trying to find a quiet place to study with cheap coffee nearby.

Some people adapt well to the stress, foreign environments and confusing bureaucracy of post-secondary institutions. A few students even rise to the challenge. Most find it difficult to fit in or navigate the strange world of student life, at least at first. What can make the difference between success and failure is to know where to look for help, advice, good company and more than a few lousy jokes that only someone working at an Aboriginal student support program can deliver with a straight face.

Some support programs may have access to student residences or keep tabs on where to find cheap but clean apartments. Some programs have Elders on call or bring them in to help ease inner turmoil. Many Aboriginal support programs try to provide a meeting place, a sanctuary, a quiet place with cheap coffee, and – yes! – available computer stations. They might help you with academic questions, introduce you to people who can help you find that long-lost research paper, organize writing classes and tours of the library, or whatever else you may need. It’s all about pointing you in the right direction. Now that you’re in post-secondary studies, you’ve just become a hunter and trapper on the information highway.

Here’s a quick look at just some of what’s out there beginning with Quebec:

Kiuna Institution is a brand new Indigenous-run post-secondary school in Quebec. There hasn’t been one since Manitou Community College closed its doors in 1976. Like Manitou, Kiuna offers courses in both English and French and a diploma program in First Nations Social Work accredited by Quebec’s Ministry of Education. The college provides accommodations with two- and three-bedroom apartments for students with families, access to sports and recreation facilities as well as counselling services. The Kiuna campus is on the Odanak Abenaki reserve by the banks of the St. François River, south of Lac St. Pierre. It’s about 113 kilometres from downtown Montreal.

Concordia University has a Centre for Native Education. The title might be a bit archaic but the services are up to snuff. Their questionnaire, “Choosing the university that is best for you,” will help people thinking of enrolling. It will help the CNE identify the courses needed to get the student where she/he wants to go. It has a resident Elder, lounge, small library, and computer facilities. The CNE will also point you toward those courses that have Aboriginal content or are designed to serve Indigenous communities. An Indigenous studies program is in the works but not yet up and running.

Check out First Peoples’ House if you’re heading to McGill University. The “Eagle Spirit High Performance Camp” is an academic boot camp to prepare new recruits for university life. Want to teach, check out the Faculty of Education and its “Bachelor in First Nations and Inuit Education.” The Canadian Studies program includes Native Studies. Want to work in health? The Faculty of Medicine has Participatory Research helping it overhaul its four-year curriculum to include more Aboriginal components. The School of Social Work has courses geared to Aboriginal communities. Students applying to the Faculty of Law may also take the summer pre-law program in the Program of Legal Studies for Native People offered at the college of law of the University of Saskatchewan, or the pre-law program, given by the University of Ottawa.

John Abbott College is located on the west island of Montreal, which has always had a large English community. John Abbott was also an early believer in providing support to Aboriginal students to ease the transition from bush to city life. It has partnered with the Cree School Board since 1990 to run a Cree nursing program. The Aboriginal Student Resource Centre has what you’d expect from a college with a long and successful relationship with Aboriginal students; a lounge, tutoring services, computer facilities, a small library with Aboriginal subjects, and potlucks, games and social activities.

Two other post-secondary institutions in the Montreal area have significant Aboriginal student populations though they don’t provide Aboriginal-specific support services. They are Dawson College and Vanier College. Dawson has a two-year pre-university program and technical programs while Vanier has a two-year pre-university program and three-year technical courses. Both have programs in computers, nursing, social work and very active sports and recreation programs.

In Ontario, several universities have programs that might attract the Aboriginal student looking for something special.

York University in Toronto offers a Certificate in Indigenous Studies at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. The Faculty of Education offers a B.Ed degree in Indigenous Teacher Education. Osgoode Hall Law School puts out a welcome sign for “Special” applicants to 30 per cent of its Bachelors in Law (LLB) program. Aboriginals come under the Special Admission Policy. Osgoode also offers an intensive one-semester course called “Aboriginal Lands, Resources and Governments.”

The University of Toronto has the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives, a hub for research on Aboriginal studies and education, while the First Nations House is the hub for student activities. It organizes seminars and workshops, conference and tours, as well as all the support an Aboriginal student can stand in any one building.

The University of Ottawa offers a Bachelor of Arts degree with either a major or minor in Aboriginal studies. Other programs with Aboriginal content or concentration are in Medicine (seven positions reserved for Aboriginal students), the Native Teacher Educations Programs, and the Common Law and Civil Law degree programs. With St. Paul’s College, the U of Ottawa also delivers a First Nations Leadership Certificate course. It boasts a pretty good Aboriginal Resource Centre with most of the bells and whistles, including counselling, mentoring and writing courses and coaching.

You can check out more universities for what they have to offer by downloading and reading the 2010 directory of Canadian university programs and services for Aboriginal students published by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). It’s not a complete rundown and, in fact, has some serious holes to fill. Ryerson University, which has a Centre for Indigenous Governance, isn’t included. Nor is Queen’s University in Kingston. The explanation is that these and other post-secondary institutions didn’t fill out or return the questionnaire. It could do better next time.

Concordia University: 
Dawson College: 
John Abbott College: 
Kiuna Institution:
McGill University: www.mcgill.ca
University of Ottawa: 
University of Toronto: 
Vanier College:
York University: www.yorku.ca

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC)
Answering the call: The 2010 directory of Canadian university programs and services for Aboriginal students www.aucc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/aboriginal-directory-repertoire-autochtone-2010.pdf