Two Aboriginal Community Gathering sessions to collect input on this project were held on February 26 (Surrey) and March 18, 2008 (at Kla-How-Eya Aboriginal Centre). A summary of input provided follows:
Learn about and include specific First Nations practices in each area served, e.g. the social, health, education practices of the various First Nations. An example: smudging is done by about half of the BC Nations, but not the West Coast Nations. Instead, cedar is burned for spiritual cleansing on the West Coast. Every Nation has their own identity.
Many postsecondary aboriginal students drop out – need a lot of support and a sense of belonging to succeed and be able to combine home and school responsibilities.
Must understand the residual effects of residential schools on First Nations young people and mature students. Many have been conditioned to be afraid to speak up, are easily shamed, and tend not to complain until situations become critical.
Mainstream schools tend to teach anxiety and fear – this does not support anyone, but is especially detrimental to First Nations people.
The First Nations Coordinator shared that the Cree Nation teaches one to sit back and to listen and not to run ahead of one’s self. It is a challenge to do this within a mainstream institution and world.
Historically and even today, Mainstream Halls of Learning pose difficulties for Aboriginal learners – the structure seems to disconnect them from their community, culture, roots. They need to feel a sense of reconnection and strength in order to succeed.
Make the content meaningful, make 'connection' part of the philosophy, connect past to future, give them knowledge and skills that are meaningful to their communities when they return home.
Technology is available in the communities, but it needs to be utilized in more connected ways.
Create a Student Forum (go to the students directly – ask existing or graduate Aboriginal students what they would have used in their programs to be more successful, and ask potential students what they need to succeed).
Often, faculty are the biggest hurdle that Aboriginal students must deal with, they often have no understanding of the Aboriginal community- must remember, this is not just preparation for a job, but it is their life!
Look at Best Practices, for instance, Vancouver Island schools hold Learning Circles to support the students (working together with cultural supports for the students) - Partnerships are important.
Program Length is a critical factor – often Aboriginal students need at least a year of extra time to upgrade their prerequisites.
Go into the Community! We need many more Community situated professionals!
Support is very important. It is important to form a circle and be available to each other (both students and planners of these programs) Social access, such as support before and after school is very important. Learners can lose their fire to do something if there is no support.
Value Elders, be open to all. Create a strong loving atmosphere for learning.
Bring in experts to teach the students, aboriginal people who have succeeded.
Writing skills are often not strong, bring in experts to help them with this.
Remember, that First Nations people are easily shamed, teachers should be aware of this – all too often they are not treated with dignity.
It is important to acknowledge their culture, but don't be patronizing.
It is also important for Aboriginal students to be knowledgeable and aware of other cultures.
It is good to form partnerships between Universities and Communities – provides a good forward direction. Dialogue needs to get stronger and we need to work in good ways together, and expand the table at both ends....there is a place for everyone. The First Nations people have always looked at all nations as their brothers and sisters, and wish to continue to do so.
It is important for our people to discover what their gift is, to cultivate it, then to share it with the community
Need to know how to meet the needs of urban First nations and Métis people
Provide novel ways of delivery e.g. Workshops, online, traditional methods.
Advocate for aboriginal rights, keep up to date with latest initiatives and milestones, foster a voice in aboriginal students.
Acknowledge aboriginal knowledge of science and knowing.
Help the students to remain who they are, not to change to be like all of the others, they need to always remember who they are.
Involve the whole community in the planning, and tap that social support.
Help us to bring our family tree back into existence, help students to walk within the fire of reality.