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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

The Nation 2024 Education Guide

BY Sakib Hossain Jan 10, 2024

In this year’s guide, we explore a selection of institutions that stand out for their commitment to providing culturally sensitive and empowering education for Indigenous students, particularly those from the Cree communities.

Each of these institutions offers a range of options for Indigenous students to find their path in higher education, blending academic excellence with a respect for and integration of Indigenous culture and values.

Centre d’études collégiales de Chibougamau (CECC)

At the Centre d’études collégiales de Chibougamau (CECC), the unique “Springboard to a DCS: First Nations” (SFN) pathway is revolutionizing the journey to higher education for Indigenous students. Tailored to ease the transition from secondary to collegiate studies, this program can span one to three semesters, opening doors to a wide range of CEGEP programs across Quebec.

Central to the SFN pathway is a curriculum encompassing general education courses such as English, French as a second language, humanities, physical education and complementary courses. These are mandatory in all Quebec CEGEPs, giving students a head start in their chosen programs by having completed key required courses. This structuring leads to a lighter schedule, enhancing student success.

Furthermore, the pathway allows students to complete prerequisites for specific programs. For instance, the secondary level math course is a prerequisite for the Accounting and Management Technology program, and the Science and Technology of the Environment course is needed for Natural Environment Technology. This flexibility ensures that students can seamlessly enter their desired programs.

The SFN pathway integrates Indigenous history, culture and knowledge into course content. For example, English literature courses feature works by Indigenous authors, and humanities courses address decolonization issues. The physical education courses include activities like canoe camping and snowshoeing. The course schedule is designed to accommodate long weekends, enabling students to maintain strong ties with their communities.

CECC’s commitment to cultural security extends beyond academics. Indigenous art is prominently displayed, and the Mîchiwâhp student lounge offers a welcoming space for Indigenous students.

The Indigenous Student Services at CECC provides personalized support, bridging students with various college services like individual pedagogical assistance, orientation, IT services and documentation centres. The team also connects students with local services like health centres and employment agencies and assists with housing and financial aid applications.

A highlight of the CECC experience is the weekly three-hour Maamuitaau gathering. Co-hosted by Cree Elders Caroline Longchap and Solomon Awashish, along with a member of the Indigenous Student Services team, these gatherings are rich in cultural activities, such as traditional events in the Shaputuan at Mistissini, participation in regional government meetings, and powwows.

The Maamuitaau is more than just a cultural event, it’s a space for sharing, exchanging and fostering student involvement, belonging and academic perseverance.

Through its innovative SFN pathway, CEEC offers a culturally sensitive and supportive environment. It ensures that every Indigenous student has the tools and support needed for success in their academic and future professional endeavours.

Cégep de Saint-Félicien

Known for its commitment to environmental stewardship and community education, Cégep de Saint-Félicien is introducing pioneering programs designed to meet the evolving needs of the Cree community and the broader region.

Slated to start in fall 2024, the Wildlife Protection program is a comprehensive 1305-hour course, partly available in Chibougamou. Offered in English, this program emphasizes the importance of wildlife conservation and protection within Eeyou Istchee. It integrates cultural components, reflecting the deep connection between the Cree and their natural environment. The program aims to equip students with the expertise needed to manage and protect wildlife, ensuring ecological balance and respecting Indigenous practices.

The AEC in Geology of Mineral Resources, launched in Chibougamou in fall 2023, spans 1290 hours and includes a practical co-op component. This program is designed for those interested in the region’s rich mineralogical landscape. It offers hands-on experience and in-depth knowledge in geology, catering to the growing demand in the mineral resources sector.

Responding to the community’s need for skilled professionals in Early Childhood Education, this program trains educators to work with young children. It addresses the specific needs of the community, preparing educators to contribute to the local workforce. As of today, the program boasts 12 students.

Cégep de Saint-Félicien will conduct tours from January to March to promote the upcoming Wildlife Protection program, reflecting the college’s dedication to community involvement.

Cégep de Saint-Félicien’s innovative and community-focused programs reflect a deep commitment to environmental stewardship, cultural sensitivity and educational excellence. These programs prepare students for meaningful careers that contribute to the sustainability and well-being of their communities.

Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT)

UQAT’s School of Indigenous Studies is the only university department in the province wholly focused on Indigenous studies. This multidisciplinary approach underlines UQAT’s commitment to integrating Indigenous perspectives and knowledge into higher education.

Primarily a French-language institution, UQAT offers courses in English for Indigenous students. This commitment to inclusivity is reflected in the university’s practice of forming small cohorts and signing agreements with Indigenous communities and organizations, including various Cree groups. This collaborative approach has led to the development of advanced Indigenous studies programs, including a master’s program set to launch in 2024, adding to the existing graduate offerings for Indigenous students.

At UQAT, the First Peoples Service supports students’ academic and psycho-social needs. This service provides tools for effective time management and assists with housing, personal relationships and other non-academic concerns. The intimate scale of UQAT allows for close relationships between faculty and students, fostering a personalized and supportive educational environment.

The university offers a range of teaching methods, including on-site community classes, remote learning, hybrid formats, and both intensive and conventional courses. This flexibility ensures that education is tailored to the diverse needs of students, particularly those from Indigenous communities.

UQAT extends its reach beyond the campus, organizing events that facilitate networking between students and potential employers, thereby supporting students’ transition from education to employment.

UQAT’s initiatives and research projects are developed in close collaboration with Indigenous partners. The university’s dialogue with Indigenous people, including former and prospective students, ensures that its programs and research respond to the concrete needs of Indigenous communities.

First Nations Executive Education / HEC Montréal

As the First Nations Executive Education (FNEE) celebrates its second anniversary, it marks not just a milestone for HEC Montréal but a significant achievement in Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration in higher education. The FNEE has rapidly become a beacon of hope and progress, blending traditional knowledge with modern executive training.

The FNEE’s second anniversary event, held November 16-17, attracted over 250 Indigenous and non-Indigenous guests from academia, business and politics to celebrate this remarkable journey. Participants from six cohorts received university attestations and certifications at the event.

The FNEE has trained 341 First Nations members through its innovative programs, taught by 46 Indigenous and 39 HEC Montréal facilitators under the guidance of eight Elders. 

A highlight of the FNEE’s achievements is the upcoming launch of a program focused on economic reconciliation. Developed with the First Nations of Quebec Economic Development Commission, this initiative seeks to foster large-scale economic projects between Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners. Starting in winter 2024, this program aims to bridge gaps and create collaborative opportunities for economic growth and mutual prosperity.

The collaboration between HEC Montréal and the FNEE illustrates a commitment to inclusive, culturally sensitive education. The partnership demonstrates how academic institutions can play a crucial role in supporting Indigenous leadership.

Concordia University

Concordia University is set to enhance its support for Indigenous students with the innovative Kaié:ri Nikawerà:ke Indigenous Bridging Program. This initiative is a significant step in making higher education more accessible to Indigenous students.

The university plans to extend the bridging program to encompass all undergraduate programs offered at Concordia. Recognizing the diverse circumstances of prospective students, there’s also a move to develop a part-time option.

The Office of Indigenous Directions involves Indigenous staff and faculty in the program’s development. Extensive consultations with local Indigenous communities, university directors, and educational organizations have been instrumental in shaping the program. For instance, focus groups with Indigenous alumni from the John Molson School of Business have provided invaluable insights into the program’s structure.

The program’s cohort model is designed to foster a sense of community and ease the transition into university life. Students in the cohort attend a structured class schedule together. A Welcome Orientation, including a campus tour, introduces students to university life and the locations of their classes. 

Every week, students meet with advisors who monitor their academic progress and personal well-being. A weekly seminar addresses academic, cultural and personal issues, while connecting students to on- and off-campus resources. The seminar covers financial literacy, self-advocacy, work-life balance, and health and wellness strategies. Additionally, tutoring and financial aid are available to support students in their academic journey.

Students will have opportunities to engage in land-based learning and participate in events at the Otsenhákta Student Centre, like budgeting workshops or volunteering at the powwow. Guest speakers, including Elders and Indigenous alumni, will be invited to share their experiences and guidance.

Alongside the seminar, the program includes University Skills courses focusing on study skills, time management, and goal setting. These courses are intended to equip students with essential skills for academic success and beyond.

Dawson College

Dawson College’s Journeys program stands as a transformative pathway for Indigenous students as they transition from high school to CEGEP. This program, along with the support from the First Peoples’ Centre, creates an enriching and supportive educational environment that celebrates and nurtures Indigenous cultures and identities.

Central to the Journeys program is its commitment to community unity. With about half of its Indigenous students being Cree, the program has created a nurturing community where cultural bonds and mutual support are paramount. This communal spirit is enhanced by the recently renovated First Peoples’ Centre, now twice its original size, offering a dedicated space for academic and cultural support.

The Journeys program fosters student mentorship and camaraderie. This was illustrated in a fish leather-making class where a student quickly mastered the skill and then transitioned into a mentor role. Such instances showcase the program’s ability to empower students to share knowledge and support each other.

Educators closely follow and support students throughout the year. This continuity in teacher-student relationships strengthens connections and provides ongoing academic assistance.

The First Peoples’ Centre also organizes cultural events, sharing circles, feasts and traditional art workshops. The Centre also places a high priority on health and wellness support, providing access to healthcare professionals, mental health support and traditional healers.

A focus on Elder engagement enriches the student’s educational journey with wisdom and cultural insights. Additionally, the Centre offers numerous student leadership opportunities through various events and workshops, encouraging students to develop skills that contribute to the Dawson community.

Algonquin College

Algonquin College is the largest polytechnic institute in eastern Ontario, with campuses in Ottawa, Perth, Pembroke and AC Online. It offers more than 300 programs including diplomas, degrees and graduate certificates in areas including health studies, advanced technology and trades.

Algonquin is committed to advocating, embracing and supporting Indigenous students. They celebrate Indigenous culture in a way that is respectful, mindful and collaborative. They also offer a range of support for Indigenous students. 

The college’s goal is to provide a full spectrum of support to ensure that students succeed and thrive. They offer academic, career and personal support to students, ranging from information on more than 50 Indigenous bursaries, scholarships, awards and other funding, to workshops and individual support with study skills, time management, tutors and employment assistance. Other offerings include referrals to career, academic or personal counselling with an Indigenous counsellor. 

The Mamidosewin Centre has served to empower and support Indigenous students for more than 20 years. “Mamidosewin” is Algonquin/Ojibwe for “meeting place” or “walking together.” The Centre strives to build a vibrant community that embodies this sentiment. 

Mamidosewin provides a variety of cultural programs and services to Indigenous learners. It includes a student lounge, solarium, kitchen and outdoor space. Various feasts, celebrations, drum circles and social activities take place during the year, including smudging ceremonies and guest speakers. Local Indigenous services, confidential counselling and access to food banks, job boards and other health and wellness services are also available. The Centre also provides access to traditional medicines and offers a place for daily smudging ceremonies.

Events are open to all. The aim is to create a welcoming space for Indigenous learners on campus while offering an opportunity for the greater college community to learn more about Indigenous traditions.

The college’s Pembroke campus is home to Campus Kokum, Campus Elder and Drumkeeper. They are the curators of sacred stories, songs, language, culture and traditions. They are the go-to people on campus for all things Indigenous. They provide a critical role in the continued commitment to support Indigenous perspectives, knowledge and approaches to wellness in an educational setting.

For students who wish to participate in post-secondary studies but want to stay close to their community, AC Online is the Algonquin College virtual campus. It offers online education, more than 80 programs and over 800 courses.

Canadore College

With its significant Indigenous student population, Canadore College is a hub for cultural diversity and educational excellence. Its commitment to Indigenous education and support is evident across its campuses and in its specialized programs.

With campuses in North Bay and Parry Sound, Ontario, Canadore has around 750 Indigenous students, making up about 15% of the total student population. This diverse student group includes Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Cree, Algonquin, Métis, Mohawk and Inuit, highlighting the college’s role as a melting pot of Indigenous cultures.

The First Peoples’ Centre at Canadore is more than just an academic facility, it’s a vital cultural and support hub for Indigenous students. It offers a range of services, from comprehensive academic support to cultural programs. The Centre also engages in recruitment, promotion and community outreach projects, extending its impact beyond the college walls.

Canadore offers various learning paths. Last year, over half of the Indigenous learners attended on-campus programs, while others studied at Indigenous partner campuses or in their home communities. Many chose part-time learning, indicating the college’s flexibility and commitment to accessible education.

A standout initiative at Canadore is the Kikandaaswiwin Mookiisin (KM) Indigenous STEAM Program. Developed in partnership with Actua, this program helps Indigenous youth enter high-skill fields like Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). KM emphasizes the importance of Indigenous identity and perspectives in these fields, offering students not only academic growth but also a renewed confidence in their cultural heritage.

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