Guest Blog: How the Queen's Community is Connecting Aboriginal Learners to PSE

Ashley Maracle and Lara Therrien Boulos You may have heard this before, but Aboriginal people are both the youngest and fastest growing population segment in Canada. According to the 2011 Household Survey, Aboriginal people boasted a 20.1% increase in population from 2006 and in 2011, and are now numbering 1.4 million. In the context of postsecondary education, it is important to understand the relationship between Aboriginal people (including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) and postsecondary institutions in Canada. The 2006 census reported that 36% of the non-Aboriginal population sported a completed Bachelor’s degree, compared to only 9% of the Aboriginal population. The contrasting success rates between these demographic groups can largely be attributed to social, cultural,

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financial, and geographic barriers – barriers which extend far beyond the realm of postsecondary education. Now, with over a quarter of the Aboriginal population aged 14 and under, it is critical for Canadian colleges and universities to promote postsecondary education to Aboriginal youth as a viable option, and ensure that postsecondary institutions maintain and improve their commitments to Aboriginal learners. At Queen’s University, multiple groups work in tandem towards achieving these goals. The Four ERLINK "http://www.queensu.ca/fdasc/index.html" Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre (FDASC) acts as the epicentre for all Aboriginal student-related activities on our campus, and provides support for our Aboriginal learners from recruitment to convocation. The centre operates with five full-time staff members (all Queen’s graduates), who work to create a sense of cultural awareness and respect for Aboriginal peoples, communities, and nations both at Queen’s and in the region. FDASC also works closely with the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Residences, and Aboriginal Access to Engineering, amongst other groups, to make sure Queen’s University policies and practices recognize and benefit our Aboriginal student population. Communication between FDASC and the rest of campus ensures that Aboriginal students at Queen’s know that they are a priority here. Four Directions’ relationship with the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) at Queen’s University has been instrumental in building on our Aboriginal student recruitment initiatives. While the OUR actively recruits applicants across Canada and the world, Aboriginal learners often do not see themselves reflected in mainstream recruitment events, as these are often targeted to current high school students and do not incorporate a holistic community-based approach to learning. To better serve Aboriginal applicants’ needs, our Aboriginal Community Liaison visits Aboriginal communities across Ontario and parts of Quebec as a member of the Aboriginal Postsecondary Information Program (APSIP, www.apsip.com). APSIP works to bridge the gap in educational attainment between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners, and connects Aboriginal learners with the postsecondary opportunities available to them. This year, APSIP saw over 3,000 Aboriginal learners over 11 weeks of travel. The “Road Warriors,” as they call themselves, highlight the challenges they have faced personally as Aboriginal learners and the supports they accessed to overcome these barriers, specifically highlighting the importance of connecting with the Aboriginal resource centre located at many of the colleges and universities today.
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The Aboriginal Community Liaison also works with departments across campus to host the Aboriginal University Experience program. As many Aboriginal learners do not “see themselves” attending university, Four Directions invites youth to come to the campus for a four-day university experience. Students stay in residence, tour the campus, and hear from various faculties and current students on campus. This year, working in conjunction with Aboriginal Access to Engineering and the Enrichment Studies Unit, Queen’s hosted 60 Aboriginal youth between Grades 7-12, and we plan to continue the program’s growth in future years. Beyond collaborating on recruitment initiatives, Four Directions and the Office of the University Registrar have made additional efforts to solidify their working relationship, to the benefit of our Aboriginal applicants. We participate in one another’s events, going beyond the specific demands of our portfolios to better understand how our roles impact our Aboriginal learners’ experiences with and at Queen’s University. We have increased our communication with our Aboriginal applicants throughout the application cycle, starting our outreach earlier and connecting with applicants more often to make sure they are supported throughout the application process. Thanks to this partnership, Queen’s has enjoyed a number of recent triumphs: the total number of Aboriginal learners who accepted their offer of admission rose by 85% this admission cycle. We are energized by our success and look forward to building on it in future years. Despite progress like ours, many challenges lie ahead for Aboriginal learners and the postsecondary institutions hoping to recruit them. Perhaps the biggest of these challenges will be for non-Aboriginal university staff to become better educated about Aboriginal cultures and values, and invested in removing the existing barriers to postsecondary education for Aboriginal people. Without this understanding, moving forward and providing equal opportunities for Aboriginal learners may be a long way away. Ashley Maracle is the Aboriginal Community Liaison: Outreach, Recruitment and Admissions at the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre at Queen’s University. Ashley is Mohawk from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. For Ashley, working within Aboriginal recruitment is a welcome challenge. Education has always been highly valued and encouraged in her family. As a result, she is now a graduate of Queen’s University (B.A.H. History and Global Development) and the University of Victoria (M.A. in

345-26 Soho Street | Toronto, Ontario M5T 1Z7 | t. 416.341.9948 f. 416.341.0358

 

Indigenous Governance). Ashley loves being able to reach out and connect with Aboriginal youth and encourage them to pursue their interests, regardless of what they may be. Lara Therrien Boulos is an Admission Coordinator for the province of Ontario at Queen’s University, and the lead coordinator for Aboriginal and First Generation Student recruitment activities. Lara is a non-Aboriginal Canadian who grew up in North Vancouver, BC, on traditional Coast Salish land. She holds a B.A.H. in Psychology and English Literature from Queen’s University. Through her work with Aboriginal admissions and recruitment, Lara has developed a keen interest in Aboriginal issues in Canada and plans to continue her selfeducation to better serve Aboriginal applicants.

 

345-26 Soho Street | Toronto, Ontario M5T 1Z7 | t. 416.341.9948 f. 416.341.0358