Clearing a path to Dalhousie for Indigenous students

- June 29, 2018

A new mural in the Ag Campus's soon-to-be-opened Student Learning Commons. (Staff photo)
A new mural in the Ag Campus's soon-to-be-opened Student Learning Commons. (Staff photo)

“One more student is a success story to me,” said Art Stevens Manager of Indigenous Students on the Agricultural Campus.

Having himself returned to school at the age of 36, Stevens knows first-hand the challenges Indigenous students face navigating the university experience for the first time.

“We are really trying to think about how we incorporate into our teaching and our pedagogy Indigenous knowledge into what we deliver,” explained Stevens. “We are really working hard to become more welcoming to Indigenous communities both from a campus perspective and through our curriculum.”

Approved in late May, the Agricultural Campus’s new Indigenous Student Access Pathway (ISAP) is designed and delivered as a one-year program exclusively for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students who would not otherwise be eligible for admissions and who would benefit from dedicated supports while transitioning to a university environment.

Throughout the student experience there will be opportunities for community involvement, access to Dalhousie’s Elders in Residence program and more. By immersing students in a strong and supportive network of faculty, staff and peers the ISAP aims to provide both the tools for navigating post-secondary and a culturally supportive environment needed to succeed.

Strengthening partnerships

From a campus perspective, the Faculty of Agriculture has been endeavouring to provide a welcoming learning environment for Indigenous learners aesthetically as well including the permanent installation of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council Flag on the Agricultural Campus a year ago in an effort to strengthen the university community and help to provide a welcoming community to all learners.

As well, River Road was recently renamed Sipu Awti, reflecting the language of the Indigenous Mi’kmaq community.

“Having witnessed the truth and reconciliation process take place whilst I was living in South Africa I know first hand that for the process to succeed, we have to move quickly from words to action,” said Dean David Gray.  “The Faculty is excited and committed to work with our indigenous communities to ensure that our campus is both welcoming and accessible to those wishing to study with us. We are taking tangible actions that clearly help remove barriers to learning and allow those that wish to study with us the chance to succeed and achieve their potential.”

A highlight this year will be a 17 x 9-foot mural in the soon-to-be opened Student Learning Commons (SLC). Designed by Art Stevens, with input from the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq and their Elders Advisory Committee, the mural pays respect to the Mi’kmaq people and to the wisdom of their elders past and present.

“Student will immediately know they’re on Mi’kmaq territory,” explained Stevens. “It’s a unique, personalized piece that makes an immediate statement in the new space.”  The new SLC will also offer smudging rooms for Indigenous students as well.

“These are all pieces, that together — the road renaming, the Grand Council flag, the mural, the smudging room — really resonates within the community, that Dalhousie University respects the cultural need for ceremony and smudging is that ceremony.  And we will now be able to do this internally for the very first time,” he added.

A community for all

Indigenous student enrolment is on the rise in Truro. In 2017/18, the Faculty of Agriculture enrolled 28 self-identified Indigenous students which represents an increase of over 55 per cent from the previous year of 18 self-identified Indigenous students.  Currently there are 27 new applicants for 2018/19 who have self-Identified as Indigenous.

A newly launched $4000 Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq and Port Hawkesbury Paper Natural Resource Indigenous Bursary has also resulted from partnerships with the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq and the Mi’kmaq Conservation Group.  This scholarship will be ideal for students who demonstrate an interest in environmental protection or natural resource sustainability.

“The Indigenous Pathway program will help transition students who need additional assistance to guide them through the university experience,” explained Millbrook First Nations Chief Mr. Bob Gloade. “Any way we can help to bridge the gap for our community members is extremely beneficial.  This is another positive sign of the cooperation between our communities and institutions to help improve opportunities for our learners.”

Toward the future

For those who have a vested interest in a university experience and in particular a science experience, will be offered an opportunity to spend a weekend on the Agricultural Campus beginning in the summer of 2019.

Awtiget Summer Camps, meaning ‘clearing a path’ in the language of the Indigenous Mi’kmaq community, will be offered to Indigenous students aged 12 – 16 years of age over a weekend to immerse them in university life.  Students will attend classes, stay in residence and experience extra-curricular activities.

“I believe the Faculty of Agriculture is well-poised to meet the needs of Indigenous students and is in close proximity to four of the 13 First Nations communities,” said Stevens.  “Camps such as these help to build relationships and help students to see themselves on the campus while emphasizing this is their community as well.”

Applications will be available in January 2019. The program will join programs from the Halifax campuses to support Indigenous students to pursue higher eduction, including the Transition Year Program and the Schulich School of Law's Indigenous Blacks and Mi'kmaq Initiative. Learn more at the Indigenous Connection website.


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