Our first Summit: Future Pathways for a Connected North

Through Connected North, we’re committed to supporting the graduation of students at the schools we serve and increasing successful transitions into post-secondary programs that value their contributions and align with their goals for the future.

In 2018, with support from the RBC Foundation, we designed and launched a Future Pathways program, recruiting a dozen Indigenous Student Leaders from across the country to guide our thinking and develop learning sessions for Connected North schools to share their experiences and personal paths. We’re pleased to share that RBC has made a two-year commitment to expand this work across the communities we serve, allowing us to engage more Indigenous Student Leaders and also connect more deeply with institutions to share our learning and invite their participation. We’re pleased to contribute to RBC’s Future Launch initiative with this unique focus.

Our first year cohort included students from 7 different post secondary institutions; University of Alberta, Vancouver Island University, Algonquin College, Carleton University, McGill University, University of Winnipeg, and the University of Saskatchewan.

The Indigenous Student Leaders help to build relationships between Connected North students, their post-secondary Institutions, and the Indigenous spaces on campus. We hope that through the video sessions they offer based on their experiences at school, forming relationships before students leave for higher education, they will be able to more smoothly transition because of the relationships they’ve built through the Future Pathways program.

To launch this year’s effort, we invited institutions to take part in our first Future Pathways Virtual Summit on Wednesday, January 23rd. Our goal was to introduce these institutions to our programming, have some of our first cohort of Indigenous Student Leaders share their experiences, and give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

The schools that were invited to participate in the summit included Yukon College, Nova Scotia Community College, George Brown College, University of Saskatchewan, Lakehead University, Confederation College, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Queen’s University, University of Alberta, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and OCAD University. The summit began with a welcoming song by Waukomaun Pawis. Jennifer Corriero, Executive Director of TakingITGlobal, spoke about starting TakingITGlobal 20 years ago as a teenager. She shared our vision of supporting youth everywhere to be actively engaged and connected in shaping a more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable world, and the importance of supporting pathways and transitions in life.

We provided context for the program being situated across our Connected North network, which serves nearly 10,000 learners across 41 schools from K-12 primarily in Northern remote communities. When we look at the challenges that Indigenous students are facing when living in a remote community, a key issue is access to colleges and universities which are located in more urban settings. We’re excited and grateful to RBC Foundation for supporting this summit and opportunities over the next few years to support students in our network and the students involved in the program.

“One of the biggest things I found when teaching was that when my students went off to University, they had trouble connecting.” Shared Kim Dymond, a former High School teacher from Arviat, Nunavut who led the Future Pathways design year. “They often felt alone, some had never been to big cities so they had trouble transitioning into that lifestyle. One of the biggest things I feel is needed is for a connection to be made with the schools prior to arriving.”

Kim wants to see a change with how students transition into schools, so by creating relationships with the schools they wanted to attend in hopes that it would help them stay longer. Kim spoke with some of her former students about things that were necessary to help that transition, and one common theme was the processing of payments and having to pay full fees in the middle of summer, before their scholarships were released.

There was no leeway for her students in terms of accessing the funds. One student could not make the residence payment and had to find an apartment, something they have never had to do. These students are coming from places where their parents likely didn’t go to post-secondary school so they can’t ask their parents for advice.

Waukomaun Pawis, a graduate of Loyalist College spoke of his experience leaving his community of Wasauksing First Nation for Belleville, Ontario. He came from a small community, though not as remote as some of the Connected North communities. He spoke about experiencing culture shock coming from a small community of 300 people, there was certainly struggles that he faced, and he can’t imagine the struggle remote students face that have a lack of access. Before he attended, one of his cousins had gone and he told him about the Aboriginal resource centre and said it was a great place to go and meet other people, with many soup and bannock type of events. Joining these activities made Waukomaun feel like home and made it easier to make friends.

When he graduated from Loyalist he had the opportunity to work as a recruitment officer to promote post-secondary education to Indigenous youth. The common message that he had when working with other communities and schools was that you don’t have to come to Loyalist if you don’t want to, but I would encourage you to come to post secondary school.

Through the Future Pathways program, we hope to extend outreach work already being done by these institutions in reaching out to nearby communities, and enabling connections to some of the most remote parts of Canada, where flights can cost $4,000 or more for a round-trip visit.

Kayla Rotseki-Merasty spoke as a recent graduate of the ITEP program at the University of Saskatchewan, and is from the northern community of Pinehouse Lake. One of the things Kayla shared was how beneficial attending an Indigenous-led program was. She felt that she was a family member rather than just a number, and the program was able to provide her with a lot of tools and guide her in the right direction if she was having trouble. One of the difficulties was having easier access to mental health support. In her second year she struggled with her mental health and needed to see a counsellor, but it was on a first-come first-serve basis which wasn’t ideal. Having access to Indigenous counsellors on an ongoing basis would be really helpful.

Michael Solomon is a graduate of George Brown College and spoke about his experience attending GBC bring quite different than other Indigenous youth across Canada because he was born in the city, knew how to navigate public transit, and the school was a 15 minute streetcar ride. One thing that was difficult for him was that he didn’t know there was an Aboriginal support centre until his second year. When he found out about it, he learned it wasn’t even at his campus, it was at another campus across town.

He didn’t grow up with access to his culture or language, so going to the Indigenous student centre he was able to experience those for the first time, and he also learned about a number of bursaries that he could apply for. The biggest gap he reflected on was that there wasn’t any signage or any indicators that this space and programs were available to him. He has a different experience than most and can’t imagine what it would be like for someone coming from a remote community coming to the city. Even being from the city he felt overwhelmed.

Karalyn Menicoche is a student at Carleton University in Ottawa and is a second year Indigenous Student Leader with Future Pathways. Karalyn moved from Fort Providence, NWT to Ottawa for her program. Karalyn talked a lot about networking and reaching out, and trying not to be too intimidated. She encourages students to reach out to the services that are available on campus. Coming from a community of 900 to a school thirty times that size, she found that it is all about getting familiar with your spaces. One thing that got her through her first year was going to academic advising and making sure she was on the right track for her program, and strongly encourages students to access advising to make sure you are on the right track. One of the things she wished she had more experience in is life management skills. It would have been beneficial to have been better prepared to understand post-secondary in terms of what is an undergrad, what is a graduate and knowing the credentials needed is really important. Another thing that she found difficult was the discipline required when studying, especially all the readings that are required for each class. A lot of courses are one day a week, but they are 2–3 hours long, and that isn’t counting the preparation for the classes, which can take a long time depending on your reading level.

Dallas Pelly is also a graduate of the ITEP program at the University of Saskatchewan. Dallas came into University as a mature student. He applied for ITEP, not knowing too much about what that meant. Dallas believes that this model of Indigenous-led programs should be prioritized for achieving Indigenous student success. Coming into that space, ITEP has really dug in and learned how to best support students coming from across the prairies. One of the things that he reflected on is that a huge benefit was having a cohort of Indigenous students. They are only allowed to take 8 classes the first year because they want them to spend more time with the people they are going to classes with. All ITEP students have the same classes so it really builds a strong foundation for the rest of University. Another benefit during his first year was an accredited class called “Strategies for academic success”. It was about different styles of learning, and mapping out supports that are available on campus. There was a concentrated approach to supporting Indigenous learning based around ongoing support from staff that are embedded in the college. “Our program was structured as a family, from day one they showed up for us which leads to the success of its students.” Said Dallas.

Evangeline Clifton is currently a student at Vancouver Island University, from the small community of Bella Bella, and made the transition to Victoria with the support from her family. Evangeline’s journey has been a little different than the traditional post-secondary journey. She returned to school as a mature student, and came through an Aboriginal ecotourism program that was delivered in part by her council and a few other schools. Through that, she was able to experience different things, obtain a variety of certificates, and received 30 transferable credits that she transferred into VIU. It’s been quite the learning experience for her transferring to VIU, going from a class size of 30 to a much bigger campus and class sizes. She ended up finding the community cousins program, which helps to support incoming Indigenous students. Within that they go through about 5–10 hours worth of training where you learn basic skills and get connected to the different resources on campus, including protocol, with a goal of lifting each other up by supporting each other through check-ins and anything that they might need.

After the schools were able to hear stories from alumni and current students, we invited them to ask any questions or even comment on what was said. A common theme throughout the conversation was having broader awareness of and support for the Indigenous student centre, having them offer a variety of programming relevant to student needs.

If you have any questions about the summit or wish to receive an invitation to future events, please email Mitch Holmes, Future Pathways Program Coordinator at mitch@takingitglobal.org.

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