Taking education in new directions
On a sunlit summer afternoon in the backyard of the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre (FDASC) on Barrie Street, a grade 11 student from the Mohawk Community of Tyendinaga stands in front of a traditional tipi. She is solemnly reciting the Ohen: ton Karihwatehkwen, a traditional Mohawk prayer of thanks, to a large crowd of her peers, teachers, and Queen’s staff.
The thanksgiving marks the end of the closing ceremony for the Aboriginal University Experience, a program that allows Indigenous students in grades 7-12 to experience four days on Queen’s campus. Following the ceremony, the young student is standing in the kitchen of FDASC, chatting with her girlfriends and eyeing the snacks being laid out. Asked about the meaning of the prayer she has just uttered, she explains, “It’s about being thankful – in this case for each other – for this experience.”
Speaking of her future plans she says, “I’m told I make good choices. I’d like to find a career where I can help others make good choices too.” She’s thinking about social work but keeping her options open.
The Aboriginal University Experience, a collaborative effort by the Enrichment Studies Unit, the Aboriginal Access to Engineering initiative, and the FDASC, informs and recruits Aboriginal students to study at Queen’s. It’s one of many campus-wide initiatives, either existing or new, to recruit and support such students in every faculty.
The teaching of Indigenous Studies has been identified as a priority in the University’s new academic plan. The Aboriginal Council of Queen’s University, established in 1992, ensures that Aboriginal people will have access to higher education and that the institution is responsive to their needs. Council members include the Principal, faculty, staff, students and members of the Aboriginal community.
The initiatives are making a difference. Both the numbers of and opportunities for Aboriginal students are expanding, and there are new options for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to pursue Indigenous Studies as an academic discipline.
Janice Hill, Director of Four Directions, says this stands to benefit all. “Queen’s graduates teachers, lawyers, engineers, medical doctors, leaders and policy makers,” she says, “We do all our students a disservice if we don’t educate them about the First People of this country.”
Hill, formerly an adjunct professor and co-director of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, is Turtle Clan Mother in the Longhouse at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Bay of Quinte, where she’s involved in ceremony, governance, dispute resolution, and the delivery of justice. She was hired as Director of the FDASC in early 2010 in response to loud requests from Indigenous students at the University. Hill, who exudes a steady and kind demeanour, drew upon 25-plus years of experience in Aboriginal education and her expertise in the Longhouse, to calm troubled waters.
All five staff members at FDASC are Indigenous. Through the Centre, they offer cultural and social events for students, set up peer-to-peer mentorships, and help students with academic programming and to find tutors. FDASC also functions as a home-away-from home for many students who have never been away from their families before.
Says Hill, “One of the best compliments I’ve heard since coming here was from a young student who said that Four Directions feels like Tóta’s house. Tóta is Mohawk for grandparent. In our culture – that’s very high praise.”
Ashley Maracle, Artsci’09, is the Aboriginal Community Outreach Liaison officer at Four Directions. She chose Queen’s for her own education, at least in part because of FDASC, so it’s fitting that upon completing her Master’s degree at U of Victoria, she found employment at the Centre. The youngest child of four, Ashley grew up in nearby Watertown, NY, but her family are Mohawk and come from Tyendinaga. “It was an expectation in my family that all the kids would go to university,” she says. “Three of us graduated from Queen’s, and one went to Western.”
In addition to helping run events such as the Aboriginal University Experience, Ashley travels throughout Ontario and Quebec, specifically targeting Indigenous high school students who might be interested in attending university. Each year, she sees about 3,000 students and a large number of teachers, principals, and parents. She works closely with Admissions and speaks individually to all Aboriginal applicants to Queen’s.
This year, the University received applications from 200 self-identified Aboriginal students. That’s a six per cent increase in applications over the previous year, along with a 28 per cent increase in offers and a 48 per cent increase in acceptances. Indigenous students can apply to Queen’s under the Aboriginal Admission Policy, but they must have the required marks and pre-requisites. Their applications are reviewed separately and may take into account extenuating circumstances.
Starting this fall, the Faculty of Arts and Science will offer a new Bachelor of Arts degree in Indigenous Studies. Forty courses from 14 different departments – including Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Biology, and History – will be part of the Indigenous Studies degree plan, which can be completed as a minor, major, or as a three-year general degree.
In addition, the Faculty of Arts and Science is hiring a new Tier II Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies. Prof. Gordon Smith, the Faculty’s Associate Dean, an ethnomusicologist whose research includes fieldwork in the Maritimes’ Mi’kmaw community, sits on the Aboriginal Council and has been involved with the development of both the new Indigenous Studies degree and plans for the new Canada Research Chair. “The new degree plan along with a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies, are important and exciting initiatives,” he says.
Attracting Aboriginal engineering students
According to the latest available data, there are 338,520 people in Canada with an engineering degree; of them, just 1,260 are Aboriginal. That’s less than one per cent. Yet many Aboriginal communities are disproportionately affected by the problems of a world that’s dependent on natural resources such as minerals, water, forests, and oil and gas. In these sectors of the economy, engineers are paramount. There is an obvious role for Aboriginal engineers, to help steward natural resources, shape infrastructure, and improve lives in Indigenous communities.
Aboriginal Access to Engineering at Queen’s aims to help educate more Aboriginal engineers. Its mandates are to reach out early to Aboriginal youth through culturally relevant math and science study materials, to promote engineering to high school students and teachers, and to support Aboriginal engineering students once they arrive on campus.
Melanie Howard, Artsci’95, Ed’98, is the director of the Aboriginal Access to Engineering Initiative. As an undergraduate, she co-founded the Queen’s Native Student Association. Her father is an engineer and her family comes from Kanehsatake, Quebec.
As part of her job, Howard travels, speaking with teachers and students about what engineers do. This summer, through a generous grant from the Barbara and Archibald Malloch Fund, established by Barbara Monture, Arts’47, (daughter of Dr. Gilbert Monture, Sc’21. Some of those interested students were able to come to campus and take part in the Applied Science stream of the Aboriginal University Experience. For a profile of Monture, please see the QAR homepage.).
In 2010 there were just two self-identified Aboriginal students studying engineering at Queen’s. This year, there were 29 applicants, and there are expected to be 20 of them registered in Applied Science and Engineering this fall. That’s a dramatic result for a program still in its infancy.
Queen’s is fortunate to have two Aboriginal engineering professors in Civil Engineering: Duncan Cree and Mark Green, Sc’87.
Green, a Mohawk, earned his doctorate at Cambridge University. He hails from “a Queen’s family” that includes his late father, Ron Green, BA’64, his uncle, James Green, Sc’62, and his cousin, Dennis Green, Sc’95. Mark Green and his wife, Joanne Lewis, Artsci’93, have four adopted Cree children, one of whom, Katee Green, Artsci’16, is also studying at Queen’s.
“There’s a long-standing recognition that Aboriginal people are under-represented in science and engineering,” says Green. “Aboriginal Access to Engineering at Queen’s is working to address this issue.”
He adds that there are dramatic changes afoot in the public perceptions of Aboriginal Canadians, due in part to the heightened awareness spurred by the Idle No More movement. “There’s still some resentment, but that’s changing. People are more receptive nowadays,” he says. “Other things are changing, too. For example, my children are learning Mohawk in their Tyendinaga schools. That wasn’t an option for me. I first began to learn Mohawk from my father. He learned the language only after he retired as a school teacher.”
Dr. Lindsay Morcom is new at Queen’s and is still finding her way around campus. Morcom is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education and Coordinator of the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP). A Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford in linguistics, Morcom, who’s Métis, grew up in Saskatchewan.
ATEP students have an option to study on-campus or in a community-based site program. Graduates receive a Diploma in Education or a BEd degree; and are eligible for certification through the Ontario College of Teachers, allowing them to teach in First Nations and Provincial schools.
Morcom is excited about what she sees as a changing cultural mindset. “The education system was used to kill Aboriginal culture and language,” she says, “but the reverse is happening now. We’re reviving our culture, and education is our way forward.”
Initiatives to attract and train Aboriginal students include a Professional Master’s in Public Administration (PMPA) with a special concentration in Indigenous governance through the School of Policy Studies; and a program in the Faculty of Law, a first for Queen’s in the 1980s, designed to increase the number of Aboriginal lawyers through an admissions program specifically designed for Aboriginal applicants.
The School of Medicine has a remarkably long history of educating Aboriginal physicians. In fact, the first Aboriginal physician in Canada graduated from Queen’s medical school in 1866. (Watch the fall 2013 issue of the Review for an article on Kahkewaquonaby, an Ojibway, who was also known as Peter E. Jones.)
Dr. Mike Green, Associate Professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health and Epidemiology, spent eight years practising medicine in Canada’s Far North prior to coming to Queen’s. He says, “The School of Medicine has had a policy in place for the admission of self-identified Aboriginal students for at least 10 years.”
It’s a long way from a culture of defeat to a culture of optimism, but optimism seems to be the prevailing mood about the direction of Aboriginal initiatives on campus at Queen’s. Global Development Studies Prof. Robert Lovelace and former Ardoch Algonquin First Nations Chief sees the Indigenous initiatives at Queen’s as necessary and positive for both the Aboriginal community and for non-Aboriginals. “We’ve moved on from being viewed as interesting cultural oddities,” he says. “Legitimate academic inquiry into Indigenous culture and history has the potential for refocusing western democracy."
Kaitlyn Brant, Sc’16 (right), came to Queen’s to study engineering with a merit scholarship. She’s entering second year Geological Engineering with aspirations of working in mineral or petroleum exploration. Kaitlyn, a Tyendinaga Mohawk who’s a descendent of the legendary Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), says she chose to study at Queen’s because of the beautiful campus, the school spirit and the opportunity for a great education. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew it was for me,” she says. “Aboriginal Access to Engineering at Queen’s was a plus when I was deciding where to go for my education.”
Doctoral student Jamaica Cass (left) is wrapping up her studies in the cancer research stream of Microbiology and Immunology. She has been at university for a decade so far and spent much of that time studying breast cancer. She’s preparing now to apply to medical school. Jamaica, who grew up in nearby Belleville, Ontario, is Mohawk. She represents the Society of Graduate and Professional Students on the Queen’s University Aboriginal Council, and she’s the outgoing Vice-President of the Queen’s Native Student Association. This summer she taught a section on medicine at the Aboriginal Student Experience program. “I grew up outside of my culture,” she says, “Now I’m embracing it and want to lead by example.”
The FDASC is building an Aboriginal Alumni Chapter. Aboriginal alumni are encouraged to join by contacting Janice Hill at email@example.com or by calling 613.533.6970