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Spotlight: BC's Colleges Working with Aboriginal Students and Communities

British Columbia is home to 7 of 11 Aboriginal language families in Canada and over two dozen recognized indigenous Nations. With 197 First Nation bands located in throughout the province, BC’s 11 community colleges with almost 70 campuses are well situated to serve these communities. With such diversity in language, culture and heritage it is vital that each of our colleges work in partnership with local First Nations communities to build programs that serve their needs and help them to establish bright futures.


Below are some examples of programs and partnerships developed in collaboration with local First Nations to deliver education and training programs suited to the needs of their communities.  The examples given are only a sample of the work that is being done in BC’s colleges throughout the province.


Ken Hans (L) and Titus Auckland (R) at May 8 opening_pole dance blessing.JPGNorthwest Community College (NWCC) serves 28 of the 197 First Nations bands in BC, as well as the northwest region of the Métis Nation. The College also has the largest number of Aboriginal students of any BC college, just less than half of its enrolments, a fact largely attributed to the progressive and open relationship between the College and local bands.
Waap Galts
The College supports its Aboriginal students by creating a welcoming and respectful environment, and by providing the programming and student services relevant to their educational needs. An example of this is the recent opening of Waap Galts’ap at NWCC’s Terrace Campus, a spectacular longhouse that is the first of its kind to be built on a Canadian college campus.


Waap Galts’ap, Tsimshian for “community house”, was recently opened with representatives and dignitaries from the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas Bands. A showcase for northwest First Nations architecture and art, it serves as a glimpse into a very rich culture. The building was built in collaboration with local First Nations and NWCC trades instructors and students. Additionally, instructors and graduates of the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art produced all of the art specifically for Waap Galts’ap. The Waap Galts’ap initiative is a signal to the rest of Canada of the acceptance of the First Peoples of Canada and, in particular, the acceptance of Northwest First Nations architecture and culture.


At Vancouver ComVCC Aboriginal Culinary Arts_20090929_4002alt.jpgmunity College’s Wild Salmon restaurant Aboriginal Culinary Arts students are discovering how contemporary their traditional cuisine can be. From sunchokes and fiddleheads to braised bison short ribs and apple-smoked trout, students are connecting centuries old ingredients with modern cooking techniques at the student-run restaurant. Students leave with culinary skills and a renewed pride in their native heritage.


The College’s twelve-month Aboriginal Culinary Arts program was originally created to showcase Aboriginal culture to the world during the 2010 Winter Olympics. After twelve months of full-time training in Aboriginal cuisine, graduates will be recognized by industry for their particular skills and their knowledge in Aboriginal cuisine. Ben Genaille, VCC chef instructor, sees the training as an opportunity to introduce the public to Aboriginal food when the graduates obtain employment in hotel kitchens, restaurants and catering companies.


Camosun College recently took part in delivering a unique Archaeology Field Assistant program in the northern community of Tsay Keh Village, located at the northern tip of Williston Reservoir, a five-hour drive north of Mackenzie, BC. This was a unique opportunity to build the capacityafa1.jpg with two First Nations, the Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha First Nation to empower them to take greater control of the archaeological activities that BC Hydro undertakes around Williston Reservoir. Camosun College entered into a contract with the Tsay Keh Dene Band who selected twelve students to take the course with BC Hydro as the main funding partner.


The Archaeology Field Assistant program teaches marketable field skills in an intense hands-on format. The program teaches students about Aboriginal heritage management, artifact cataloguing and description, site identification, mapping and recording, basic study of local geography and plant communities, as well as safety in the field.


Recognizing that a program designed for a Victoria-based student body could not simply be transplanted into a remote community, Nicole Kilburn, program chair and curriculum designer/instructor, took on the challenge of redesigning the program to meet the needs of the Tsay Keh learners. This included, cultural and archaeological references that were specifically relevant to the Peace River Valley and traditional lands of the Sekani Nation, and adapting the program to be delivered orally, as some students did not have the literacy or numeracy skills required for the course curriculum.


The result was a 100 per cent success rate. All twelve students passed and received accreditation and five passed with distinction.  The Archaeology Field Assistant program runs annually in Victoria, using local First Nations sites for their hands-on practice.


DSC_0045.jpgAt College of the Rockies a Nation Rebuilding program has been created in partnership with the Ktunaxa Nation. It was developed to prepare indigenous people to carry out the planning for and rebuilding of their own governments, including systems and processes that are consistent with their values, principles and vision.


The program, offered through distance delivery, introduces students to both planning and governance theory and provides practical experience in planning for self-governance. Students who successfully complete this program can expect to work in First Nations communities and intergovernmental organizations as leaders, managers, staff and consultants. The Ktunaxa Nation has been recognized as a Centre of Excellence by the National Centre for First Nations Governance.


As demonstrated above, BC’s colleges are responding to the specific needs of the communities in which they are based by collaborating with local First Nations and the Métis Nation to create programs and provide training that meet their unique population. In urban areas these may be hospitality skills such as the Culinary Arts Program at Vancouver Community College, and in rural areas the Archaeology Assistant Program developed by Camosun College. Wherever our colleges are based in the province, they are endeavoring to work with Aboriginal leaders and elders to create environments that welcome First Nations’ students like the opening of Waap Galts’ap at Northwest Community College, and provide resources for self governance like the Nation Rebuilding program offered at College of the Rockies.


Is our work to enhance the participation and success of Aboriginal students done? Absolutely not, BC Colleges are committed to working closely with Aboriginal institutions, leaders and elders to ensure our colleges provide welcoming and supportive learning environments and curricula that acknowledges the unique worldview of our First Peoples.


Jim Reed
President, BC Colleges
Tel. 250-595-4866