York awarded $400,000 to support aboriginal learners

The Ministry of Training, Colleges & Universities (MTCU) announced Wednesday that York University will receive $400,000 for the 2009-2010 year to develop and deliver support services to ensure positive outcomes for aboriginal learners and to support institutional development. The ministry also held out the prospect of further funding in the following two years, based on results.

The plan is to enhance and expand services for current aboriginal students, including peer mentoring, laptop lending, writing support and student leadership; to attract more aboriginal students to York through high-school visits by an aboriginal recruiter and to work with high school aboriginal counsellors and advisers; to perform community outreach; to develop bridging programs working with service agencies to improve access to York; and to establish an Aboriginal Alumni Association.

Left: Lisa Odjig, world champion hoop dancer performing at a powwow held at York

“These funds will allow York to greatly enhance the support services to the aboriginal student population on campus and to develop the necessary resources in place to allow this expansion, such as additional staff and space,” says Randy Pitawanakwat, coordinator of Aboriginal Student Community in the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development.

York plans to use the funds to enhance its youth engagement strategy, such as the Riverdale Project which started in September and gives aboriginal students from Riverdale Collegiate Institute the opportunity to take a York University course and receive a credit toward future studies.

The successful recruitment of aboriginal learners often hinges on the involvement of agencies and community centres, as well as schools, and this is another area York will concentrate on developing. In addition, as campus visits and viewbooks have been shown to be more influential with aboriginal students than for the non-aboriginal population, York will make more use of those strategies.

Already, there are a growing number of York-affiliated people and programs working in aboriginal communities and with aboriginal agencies. There are also many representatives of aboriginal communities and agencies who attend cultural events at York – especially the annual powwow – and who give their time and expertise to enrich the experience of aboriginal learners.

These connections attract students, help retain them and add to their satisfaction and success, says Pitawanakwat.

Right: Derrick Bressette, head male dancer at the annual pow wow held at York

The goal is to provide continued funding for an aboriginal recruitment officer and other staffing positions that would allow for further aboriginal initiatives at York, such as strengthening community ties, promoting York to potential students and being present in the aboriginal community in a significantly improved way.

More than 60 per cent of Ontario’s aboriginal population lives in urban areas. Thirty-two per cent lives in Central Ontario, which includes the Greater Toronto Area and where 86 per cent of York’s aboriginal applicants come from. The majority of them self-identify as North American Indian.

Over the next three years, York will increase the number of aboriginal students applying to and attending the University. In addition to improving access and augmenting its links with the aboriginal community, York hopes to enhance the support services available to aboriginal learners and improve the retention and graduation rates of aboriginal students. As well, a more robust aboriginal community presence will be developed on the campus.

To help achieve these goals, York will look at enhancing, improving and developing space for aboriginal students and developing a Web strategy, such as computer literacy programs targeted to meet the needs of aboriginal populations. York also hopes to improve cultural programs, including elders-in-residence, an indigenous speaker series and the Aboriginal Awareness Days and powwow event. Some of the other goals include enhancing aboriginal student leadership and establishing aboriginal student peer health education, among other things.

The MTCU’s new consolidated funding approach will use a results-based process where the ministry will track the progress in improving postsecondary education and training outcomes for aboriginal learners. That could mean an additional $400,000 for each of the two subsequent school years – 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

The approach builds on the Aboriginal Education & Training Strategy, as well as investments made through the Reaching Higher Plan’s Access to Opportunities Strategy (aboriginal-specific component), and other special purpose grants targeted to aboriginal postsecondary education initiatives.

For more information, contact Randy Pitawanakwat, coordinator of Aboriginal Student Community in the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development, at ext. 22607 or rpitawan@yorku.ca.