Universities need to change to accommodate more First Nations students
Mount Allison Univeristy conference hears ideas on ways to 'indigenize' campuses
A two-day conference on how to better accommodate indigenous students on university campuses wrapped up Thursday at Mount Allison University.
Speakers from all over Canada, including students, university administrators, professors and government workers took part.
Following a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many colleges and universities are working to "indigenize" their campuses.
They're taking measures such as hiring indigenous affairs coordinators or designating a meeting space for First Nations students and staff.
"The first time I went to UPEI I felt excluded, I felt alone," said Dion Bernard, a student from the Abegweit First Nation. "I felt like I was gonna fail my first time."
Bernard struggled with the culture shock of leaving his reserve, and he didn't feel accepted until he found an aboriginal gathering place on campus, the Mawi'omi Centre.
He feels university faculty members have to get involved in creating inclusion measures for aboriginal students.
It's gonna hurt ... because it involves a change in power.- Pamela Palmater, Ryerson University
"Students only have a limited time to make a difference," he said.
"We notice over time that we get a group, like three or four aboriginal students doing so good. And then they graduate and go on to do something else. We have leaders and champions, but they're also about to graduate. It grows to a certain point, but if we don't get enough people to be there to get the ball rolling, it's going to be very difficult to indigenize UPEI."
Pamela Palmater is a professor at Ryerson University, as well as an activist, author and lawyer, originally from a Mi'kmaw First Nation in New Brunswick.
"The onus is on non-indigenous and universities to get along with this project of reconciliation," said Palmater.
"It shouldn't be on the backs of the lone indigenous faculty or the indigenous students."
Palmater said the changes needed to make universities better places for First Nations students and staff will be uncomfortable, and if it doesn't feel that way, it's not being done right.
"It's always been about diversity, and going to one diversity workshop training group. And then people feel like 'OK, I've done my good deed,' but nothing changes!" she said.
"Basically, nothing is going to change unless it hurts, and why do I say it's gonna hurt? Because it involves a change in power."