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)