Campus preparing for surge in enrolment of aboriginal students
When Morley resident Alysha Raine stepped foot on Mount Royal University campus in September 2014, she was cautiously optimistic.
A 21-year-old Aboriginal woman from Stoney Nation, Raine was starting her first year in the open studies program at MRU. She was one of 486 aboriginal students on campus, making up 3.6 per cent of the student body.
Raine said there were times she felt isolated. However, she expected to feel like more of a minority than she actually did.
"If I was in AEP (Aboriginal Education Program) classes I would see familiar faces but in GNEDs (general education courses) at first, I felt alone and kind of afraid to speak up."
Over the next few years, Raine will likely see far more aboriginal students join her on campus. First Nations students represent the highest growing demographic among post-secondary institutions in Alberta, according to John Fisher, the director of the Iniskim Centre at MRU.
"More and more, [aboriginal] students will be coming from Grade 12 to post-secondary and there needs to be that supportive place for them to land," said Fisher.
He added the aboriginal population in Alberta is about 200,000, of which 15-24 year olds make up 30 per cent.
In an effort to both increase and support indigenous enrolment, MRU is rolling out its Aboriginal Strategic Framework launched a year ago. The goal is to indigenize the entire campus.
Jenny Philbrick, a fourth-year Aboriginal business student and a member of the university's Aboriginal Steering Committee, had a hand in developing the framework.
"I see this framework and strategies bringing more pride to aboriginal people, making Mount Royal more accepting and I just see it as a brighter future for my children to come here and be proud of who they are," Philbrick said.
Out of the framework comes a 5-year action plan. The main goals include increasing the number of aboriginal students, employing more aboriginal faculty, showcasing indigenous artwork on campus, and developing courses that cater to more specific aspects of aboriginal history and culture.
The Iniskim Centre provides financial, academic, and emotional support to everyone at MRU but specifically caters to the university's aboriginal student population.
Iniskim will be the launchpad for these changes with an increase in "all-welcome" activities including weekly smudge ceremonies.
Raine welcomes plans to increase the centre's visibility.
"There are a lot of people that pass by Iniskim who have no idea what it is," she said. "It's a good small community but we feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the Mount Royal community right now."
Philbrick adds to that, explaining that it is not just about inspiring aboriginal students.
"I want to see more non-aboriginals coming into aboriginal culture and be more open-minded and learn more. I don't think learning hurts anybody."
Raine agrees with Philbrick, and explains that more classes for non-aboriginal students are a good place from which to launch.
"When you're in an indigenous studies class, it's such a specialized category. There is a preconceived notion about the class and the purpose it serves," Raine said. "There needs to be more to choose from, for everyone."
- By Olivia Condon and Cameron Perrier