Panel: The challenges faced by Indigenous students in post-secondary education

CBC Indigenous host Lenard Monkman sits down with guests to talk about the obstacles students face navigating post-secondary education, and tips for achieving success.

'I was generally the only Indigenous student in a lot of my programs,' says Danielle Morrison

CBC Indigenous host Lenard Monkman sat down with guests Tara Williamson, Ryan Beardy and Danielle Morrison to talk about the obstacles that Indigenous post-secondary students face, Indigenization of campuses, and what tips they have for students trying to finish school. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

As the school year begins, many Indigenous students are starting their post-secondary educations. On Thursday, CBC Indigenous spoke with a panel of current and former post-secondary students to talk about the challenges that Indigenous students face.

For Tara Williamson from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba, learning how to navigate the application process as a first-generation post-secondary student and getting accepted to a university was a challenge. 

Williams is now an instructor at the University of Winnipeg and at Ryerson University.

For Ryan Beardy from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, it was feeling like he was in an unfamiliar environment. Beardy obtained his General Equivalency Diploma while serving a federal prison sentence at Stoney Mountain Institution.

"I think it was a lot of being unfamiliar with so many people around, being unfamiliar with where the classes are, where to access resources," said Beardy.

He is in his second year at the University of Winnipeg where he is studying political science and conflict resolution. He also is working for the university as a mentor for first-year university students.

Watch the discussion as the panellists take your questions:

Panel talks challenges faced by Indigenous students in post-secondary education 28:55

Danielle Morrison, a member of the Anishinaabe of Naongashing in Ontario, talks about the culture shock she experienced leaving Kenora to attend the University of Ottawa.

"I had a cousin that I went to first-year university with, and so we really relied on each other to get through some of those hard days," said Morrison.

"We were no longer surrounded by community and culture and I think that was really tough because that was such a big part of my life."

She also talks about being singled out as an "Indigenous spokesperson" whenever Indigenous issues arose inside of a classroom.

"I was generally the only Indigenous student in a lot of my programs," she said.

Morrison took a visual arts program and every time there was a discussion on Indigenous artists, the instructor would ask her in front of the class what she thought.

"I didn't want to be put on the spot, so I actually ended up having a conversation with my prof after the class and said to her it made me feel really uncomfortable because I'm not a spokesperson for Indigenous people." she said.

"And she felt really bad. She actually cried about it."

Morrison is now in her third year of the University of Manitoba's law program.


About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1