Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Aboriginal Initiatives - Feb 8 discussion group summary

Catherine Carlson facilitated our second face-to-face discussion on the theme of Aboriginal Initiatives yesterday at New Westminster and provides this summary. Please feel free to comment. (You can also read the summary of the Jan 27 discussion of Aboriginal Initiatives here.) --Scott

Aboriginal Initiatives discussion group summary - from Dr. Catherine Carlson, Associate Dean, Humanities and Social Sciences

An impressive turnout of 28 people addressed how Douglas College could best meet the program and service needs of Aboriginal learners. Present were First Nation elders, current and past Douglas College students, community and school-district Aboriginal advisors and coordinators, and College faculty and administration. Included were members of Metis and British Columbia First Nations (Qayqayt, Stó:lō, Carrier, Sekani, Nuxalk, Haida, Nisga’a, and North Thompson), and others from communities of Cold Lake, Oglala-Lakota, and Cree from other regions of Canada.

Several topics emerged from the small group discussions. It was noted, for example, that it is often intimidating for Aboriginal students who come from small communities to attend college.

To make a more welcoming and friendly place to learn, it was suggested that the building of the new Gathering Place would be important as long as activities are regularly scheduled for students.

Other activities, such as setting up a student peer-mentor program, having more coordinators and tutors, offering leadership and cultural programs outside of classes, hosting elder’s nights, providing cultural awareness and sensitivity workshops for faculty, partnering with local friendship centers, installing Aboriginal art in the concourse, or having more Aboriginal events than just Aboriginal Day (June 21), would help to make students feel more welcome, supported, and safe.

Several discussants noted that Aboriginal services at the college are not clearly defined, and that most instructors do not have a good understanding of cultural issues that affect students (e.g., respecting the importance for students to attend their community events or funerals).

The establishment of a Council of Elders consisting of community members from all the First Nations in the Fraser Valley to provide cultural direction to the College Aboriginal Advisory Committee was recommended. The College has had an advisory committee in place for about ten years.

For curriculum, several groups were concerned that having separate Aboriginal streams in programs with different standards that segregate rather than integrate is not preferred.

Preparatory programs in Math 12 and Biology 12 for pre-health students, or other preparation such as for English assessment, are needed; however the problem of these courses not having credit is an issue for band funding.

One of the elders expressed concern about students not receiving a “proper education,” that includes for example, English and computer skills, but also programs in the trades. Some participants recommended more courses with cross-cultural content offered, or credentials in Indigenous Studies in arts disciplines.

It is apparent that the College needs to be flexible about band funding delays that many students experience. Funding for off-reserve students continues to be a problem, as does funding for College preparation. Better explanation of medical and dental plans available to students was also a topic of discussion.

Finally, it was noted that there are not large numbers of Aboriginal students enrolled in programs at Douglas College. To recruit more students it was recommended that information sessions that take place both in the communities and on campus, having increased contact with the school districts about their students, and, in general, working on building relationships with the communities will go a long way towards making Douglas College a more attractive place for Aboriginal learners (and future leaders).


What do you think? We welcome your comments on the Aboriginal Initiatives discussion. (New to blogs? Read How to Post a Comment)


  1. As a former student at Douglas College and I am also an Aboriginal person from a small community. I can identify with the concerns raised at this face-to-face. I was sadly unable to attend the event but am excited to see the response.
    It's true that coming from a small community to the urban area of Metro Vancouver can be hard on Aboriginal students, (the same can be said, I think, for International students).
    The first thing I did when I started at Douglas College was seek out the First Nations Centre, there I found, if I made the effort to connect with the Coordinator and other students, I got terrific support. I think the Gathering Space is a wonderful idea and more Aboriginal events throughout the year will increase awareness of all students (including those Aboriginal students who don't know what services and resources are available to them).
    I can say without a doubt that the support I received at the First Nations Centre I would have had a much harder time adjusting to life as student here at Douglas College.
    I found that my instructors were accomodating and understanding for the most part, but at times were exploitative of my Aboriginal relations. I felt, in some classes, during some discussions, that I was responsible to have answers about culture just because I was Aboriginal. Sadly, because there are so many varying cultures in the Aboriginal nations of Canada alone, I was left feeling judged at times.
    I stress that this was a rare occurance, but that it did happen. So I support more educated integration of Aboriginal information into cirriculum.

  2. Wish I could have made it to this meeting but could not.

    I would like to add that the college community needs to find strategies to build awareness and knowledge around many Aboriginal issues so that the people (staff, faculty, students) develop their understandings about basic issues that effect us all in some way: treaty negotiations, the Indian Act, funding, Dept of Indian and Northern Affairs, reservation systems, off reserve realities, stereotypes, and so much more. I would like to see more celebration of diverse Aboriginal cultures within the college and within our courses.

    I've tried to build many of these discussions into my classes and would like more support in order to do this effectively. I need content advice from Aboriginal people and guest speakers in my class (I've invited many on my own from different communities in the area). Instead, I get a lot of resistance: I've been told by some that I have too much Aboriginal content in my courses. Many of my students roll their eyes when I talk about what Aboriginal rights are or show a film about a certain group. Most stop listing. Obviously this is a wider Canadian issue but there's a lot we can do here in this college. Some students have said that my Canadian courses are not Canadian because they spend about 20-25% of content looking at Aboriginal land claims or colonization process. I think they don't realize that Aboriginal people are Canadians too!

    I'm worried that I'm supposed to drop some Aboriginal content in order to satisfy the customer, I mean student, whereas what I really need is the support to teach the content and teach it in ways that is accessible and approachable by the students. This is difficult as some students emotionally react and stop listening when they hear the word "Aboriginal" or "First Nation".

    I would also like to point out that some of my students do actually enjoy the course content and engage with the material and discussions and tell me they are thankful for learning about topics they previously knew little about or had not thought about (or worse, had been misinformed on!).