Office of Aboriginal Initiatives | Newsletter
According to Kandice Baptiste, Aboriginal student recruitment and retention officer, Laurier had 90 undergraduate applicants in 2009 who identified their heritage as Aboriginal. So far in 2013, the university has over 200 self-identified Aboriginal students, and an estimated equal number who haven’t done so. Laurier currently has eight selfidentified Aboriginal faculty members and 16 staff members, Becker said. As for academic programming, Laurier offers an Indigenous Studies option at its Brantford campus as well as courses on various aspects of Aboriginal history, culture and politics at the Waterloo campus. Laurier also offers a Master of Social Work, Aboriginal Field of Study, through its Faculty of Social Work in Kitchener. The three-day Haudenosaunee Journey yielded many lessons and observations as the participants interacted with Aboriginal staff and faculty at the University of Toronto, Trent, and Cornell. Here are a just a few: • Representatives from the three host universities all emphasized the importance of providing specialized support services to attract and retain Aboriginal students. While the transition to university may not be a big challenge for some Aboriginal students raised in urban and suburban settings, it can be an enormous change for students raised on some of the more remote Aboriginal communities. • Post-secondary education is an effective way to empower individuals and communities. But even though Canada’s Aboriginal youth population is growing at three times the national average, university participation rates lag those of other Canadians. According to 2006 Census data, eight per cent of Aboriginal people in Canada had attained a university degree compared to 23 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians.
WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY
“It is important that we take part in each other’s activities because that promotes understanding.” AVA HILL, MEMBER OF THE SIX NATIONS ELECTED COUNCIL
• Representatives from all three universities said it was important to open Aboriginal social and cultural activities to non-Aboriginal students, staff and faculty as a way of building awareness and understanding of Aboriginal culture and issues. • At U of T and at Trent, the Indigenous Studies professors and
In discussions at Cornell University
related academic support offices are located in the same general area as the Aboriginal support services, allowing for a convenient interaction between students, faculty and support providers. • Cornell has an impressive living-learning residence hall called Akwe:kon (a-GWAAY-go, from the Mohawk language), meaning “all of us.” It houses 35 students and is the centre of Aboriginal cultural activities and social gatherings on the university’s sprawling Ivy League campus.
Premiere Issue • October 2013
• Trent has a First Peoples House of Learning, which includes a distinctive, light-filled circular room with the word Ska’nikón:ra —skah-nee-GOO-rla, from the Mohawk language meaning: gathering our minds together as one— inscribed on a plaque in the entranceway. Trent has a First Peoples Performance Space, an outdoor sweat lodge and a large, functional teepee for informal uses, such as group discussions and cooking meals. During the Haudenosaunee Journey, many of the Aboriginal participants spoke their Indigenous languages when introducing themselves at each university. Sherri Vansickle, an Aboriginal support counsellor with the Grand Erie District School Board in Brantford, later spoke about the importance of practising and nurturing Aboriginal languages. In the spirit of this, Vansickle and Bonnie Whitlow, Laurier’s Aboriginal student support coordinator for the Brantford campus, were asked to sum up the Journey in Haudenosaunee terms. They offered the following three related words: Ka’nikonhrí:yo (gah-nee-goo-HRLEE-yo), which means: to keep the Good Mind and make good decisions; Sken:nen (SKAA-nuh), which means peace; and Ka’satsténhsera (gah-sut STUH-say-rla), which means power or strength. As the Haudenosaunee Journey rolled to an end, Lesley Cooper said she was pleased with the outcome. “This has been a fantastic journey,” she said. “I think we achieved better relationships and we learned what other universities offer in terms of Indigenous Studies and Aboriginal support services, and we’ve also learned more about what we do at Laurier in these areas and the potential we have to do more.”