Many Travel to McGill From Across Canada: New Program Gives Aboriginal Students Valuable Skills

2011-2012 Issue 1

photo by Ryan Blau

Aboriginal Pathways students, organizers and community representatives; photo by Ryan Blau

This August marked the kickoff of Aboriginal Pathways, an innovative endeavour at McGill. Ten Aboriginal students spent two weeks immersed in an intensive preparatory three-credit course that focuses on essential writing and study skills, including how to do research in a university library. The initiative is the result of the hard work and coordination of numerous McGill entities, such as the Aboriginal Affairs Workgroup, the Aboriginal Community Focus Group, First Peoples’ House, the McGill Writing Centre, and Faculty Partnerships and Summer Studies – the latter two from the School of Continuing Studies.

Promoted far and wide to band councils and native communities, the program – which features both Western and indigenous ways of learning – has attracted quite a diverse group of students. According to Kakwiranó:ron Cook, Aboriginal Community Outreach Coordinator at First Peoples’ House, “We had a dynamic cross section of First Nations and communities, such as Mohawk from Kahnawake, Mi’gmaq from Listuguj, Quebec, an Algonquin from Eagle Village, Quebec, and Crees from Opaskwayak, Manitoba, and Waswanipi, Quebec.”

Academically, the program was centred on the writing course taught by Dana Salter each weekday morning from 9:00 to 12:00, followed by homework and mentoring sessions in the library with Aboriginal Mentor Gregory Brass every afternoon. Delicious lunches were served at First Peoples’ House, some catered by Kwe Kwe Gourmet of Kahnawake. And, according to Cook, evenings and weekends were filled with quite an array of cultural outings.

“We certainly gave them a nice taste of McGill and Montreal. In addition to our opening and closing ceremonies, we filled some free time with fun events such as going to the movies, heading out to the Old Port to watch the fireworks, checking out Algonquian rapper Samian at Place des Arts during the First Peoples’ Festival, and visiting the Montreal Botanical Garden during its tenth-anniversary celebration for the First Nations Garden.” To further extend the social aspect of the program, some students stayed together in a McGill residence.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 1.10.55 PMAt the closing ceremony, Alex Sonny Diabo, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake, aptly summarized the benefits of this new initiative: “The program went well and I really acknowledge the students for finishing the 12-day course. I wanted to hear from them all on how their experiences went and the way they all spoke at the closing ceremonies – I think all expectations were met with the program. It brought the students up to another level.”

As well as nurturing personal growth, Aboriginal Pathways will likely grow into a suite of courses that will eventually become an academic program. Cook and other stakeholders will be discussing how this first offering can be improved and how they can attract even more students next year. As Cook says, “This is a unique opportunity for Aboriginal learners from across the country and from a wide range of educational backgrounds to come and improve their writing competencies, make friends at McGill and enjoy the summertime fun that Montreal has to offer.”

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