Aurora College shelves program to train aboriginal wellness workers
Aurora College in Inuvik, N.W.T., is cancelling a program that trains aboriginal wellness workers and addictions counsellors, as funding has dried up and most of its students have dropped out.
Introduced in 2007, the college's Indigenous Wellness and Addictions Prevention diploma program was billed as a course that would train people to help others with addictions without having to leave the North.
But the drop-out rate for the two-year program has been high. Current student Mabel Brown said she and another person may be its only graduates this spring.
The rest of their class — about nine or 10 people — have dropped out, she said, citing an overly challenging curriculum that was not geared towards the needs of locals.
"A heavy load of homework, a lot of research to do," Brown told CBC News.
"To me, it's like as if I was going to university, but I've never gone to university."
Denise Kurszewski, a former Gwich'in wellness director who sits on Aurora College's board of directors, said some students may have been overwhelmed by the emotionally intense nature of the diploma program.
"You need to be very careful about the selection of students when you're dealing with this kind of a program — students that have the right qualifications, not only academically, but they need to be prepared to visit a lot of the issues themselves," she said.
"People may have realized that it's a difficult program to go through."
Kurszewski said the college has had problems securing funding for the course for next year. Staff will also need to revamp parts of the curriculum, she added.
College officials say it's normal to see programs come and go. The Indigenous Wellness and Addictions Prevention diploma program may be offered again, in a different format, sometime in the future, they say.
"Social issues are a huge one in the territories," Kurszewski said.
"I think one of the best ways to deal with that is to have our own people trained and to work out some of our solutions."
Brown said the program should have First Nations instructors who are familiar with the residential school experience, instead of non-aboriginal teachers.
On the positive side, Brown said she has learned a lot in the past two years, and she has already received offers to work after she graduates.
"I've already got offers already to help here in town," she said. "Residential schools [issues] is one of the areas that I'm really interested in."