Indigenous

Sask. technical institute seeks an 'auntie-in-residence' for entrepreneur program

The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) has created an "auntie-in-residence" position to help mentor Indigenous students who want to run their own businesses.

New role aims to help Indigenous students with entrepreneurial skills

Samantha Ouellette, co-ordinator of Strategic Initiatives, Academics at Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, says the new position will help to create a sense of belonging for students. (Kelsi Prince)

The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) has created an "auntie-in-residence" position to help mentor Indigenous students who want to run their own businesses.

"We have a strong emphasis on community and kinship amongst our students and so by having this auntie-in-residence, it's one of our ways to nurture our students," said Samantha Ouellette, co-ordinator of Strategic Initiatives, Academics at SIIT.

SIIT, which has three campuses in Saskatchewan, is launching its Miyoskamin: Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, designed to help Indigenous students become small business owners, in February.

The auntie-in-residence will work with the program's cohort of 15 students and will be similar to elder-in-residence positions at post-secondary institutions that usually offer cultural, emotional, and spiritual support for Indigenous students.

"Our aunties are like our second parents. They bring that comfort but they are also stern," said Ouellette.

Mary Beaucage, who worked as an elder-in-residence at the University of Saskatchewan, said support roles are important for Indigenous students in post-secondary institutions. 

"I think aunties provide that safe space — it doesn't matter what you call it, whether you call it an elder or an auntie — it's a safe space where students can come," said Beaucage, who is Métis from Vassar, Man.

"Aunties are safe. Kokums are safe."

Cheyenne Henry is a longtime student advisor. She said positions like the auntie-in-residence role could help Indigenous students integrate into post-secondary institutions. (Submitted by Cheyenne Henry)

Ouellette, who is Cree from Meadow Lake Saskatchewan, has a bachelor of education degree and is getting close to completing a master's in education from the University of Saskatchewan. She said having an academic auntie would have made a difference while she was completing her first degree.

"You don't always get that at post-secondary institutes or educational institutes at all, and so even within this program, we have our Indigenous knowledge systems embedded within the curriculum," said Ouellette.

Cheyenne Henry, student success advisor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, previously worked with a large Indigenous student population at the University of Winnipeg and often took on extra tasks helping first-year students. 

"It's just really hard to be in those spaces," said Henry, who is from Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation. 

She said the auntie-in-residence position at SIIT shows a sense of humour and could help students trying to navigate academic institutions.

"It's important that we have someone that understands who we are, where we come from, someone that ideally has maybe similar life experiences, educational experiences," said Henry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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