New Brunswick

UNB Indigenous community looks to increase engagement between students, administration

Amanda Reid Rogers has been given an important task in the journey to reconciliation. She will be installed Thursday as the University of New Brunswick's assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement.

Amanda Reid Rogers hopes to establish policy on smudging, Indigenous safe spaces

Amanda Reid Rogers has been named UNB's Piluwitahasuwin, or assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

Amanda Reid Rogers has been given an important task in the journey to reconciliation.

She will be installed Thursday as the University of New Brunswick's assistant vice-president of Indigenous engagement.

Her Wolastoqey title is Piluwitahasuwin, which translates to "allowing your thinking to change so that action will follow in a good way toward truth," according to a UNB release announcing Rogers's appointment.

Reid Rogers said Indigenous students face the challenges all students do when entering university, including the challenge of being away from home for the first time.

 But there are challenges specific to being Indigenous as well, such as not finding Indigenous culture reflected in the curriculum or campus. 

"I think a lot of Indigenous students are pretty aware that universities like UNB are on their homeland, their ancestral homelands," said Reid Rogers, a graduate student in nursing at UNB.

"But then they're entering into a building that might not necessarily reflect their culture, so there can be the sense of feeling alienated in your own homeland."

Between cultures

Reid Rogers was born in Wolastoqey territory and grew up on the Woodstock First Nation, but she is Dakota-Sioux, a nation whose territory extends into southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

She said she has learned about and feels a part of both cultures, which gives her a balanced perspective.

"I can resonate with the experiences of Indigenous people who maybe didn't grow up in their traditional territories," said Reid Rogers.

"I have connections with the local Indigenous people's here … as well as those who are away from their traditional territories."

Engaging students

Reid Roger's position is aimed at helping promote and expand Indigenous culture on campus.

Nadia Wysote, the UNB Student Union's representative for Indigenous students, said Reid Rogers's appointment has given her another person to collaborate with.

Nadia Wysote is the UNB Student Union's representative for Indigenous students. (UNB Student Union)

Wysote said the university has had difficulty connecting with the Indigenous student body.

"I don't think they do it purposefully, however. I feel that something could be done to be able to get more engagement from Indigenous students."

Wysote said engaging with Indigenous students can be as simple as setting aside free tickets to campus events for Indigenous students to encourage them to participate in the larger university community. It could also include more institutional ideas, such as creating an Indigenous student committee.

"It would be good for Indigenous students to kind of have that committee and be [exclusive] just for Indigenous students," said Wysote.

Committees and policies

One focus for Reid Rogers is helping to establish an Indigenous advisory committee, which she says will help make decisions related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's strategic action plan. These could include changing or adding more Indigenous content to the curriculum.

Reid Rogers said updating the curriculum is important.

"It can be hard when as an Indigenous person, if you've grown up in your culture and you have a good grasp of colonial history … to take in information that … doesn't have any consideration for Indigenous peoples in it," said Reid Rogers.

Wysote said she's been in the position of having to correct professors who were mistaken about Indigenous issues.

"He was very [understanding] and appreciated that I did bring it up and correct him," said Wysote.

Some misunderstandings

 Wysote said often a misunderstanding can cause friction among Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. For example,  many Indigenous students apply for financial assistance that other students can't receive. 

This can foster a negative view of Indigenous students, something Wysote has had to deal with.

Reid Rogers said she's looking to do something independently, such as helping the university adopt a policy on smudging.

"We've sort of got an informal understanding as to what procedures are in place, but there isn't anything written down," said Reid Rogers.

"That's been a priority identified by Indigenous students."

Proposes 'safe space' 

Reid Rogers also supports the creation of Indigenous-only space at the university.

She said this would not be a physical, permanent location, like an Indigenous-only lounge, but would mean setting aside time and space for Indigenous people to gather by themselves. 

"To create that safe space," said Reid Rogers.

A ceremony to officially install Reid Rogers as Piluwitahasuwin is set for Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Currie Center.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

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