York U students’ Indigenous Friends App set to expand social network for Indigenous students

A screen grab from the App's homepage shows a number of Indigenous symbols against at tipii
The App’s opening screen features traditional art and an inspired layout

An app designed by York University students to connect and support Indigenous youth will be deployed in several colleges and universities over the next three years through a Youth Opportunities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

MPP Michael J. Coteau, minister of children and youth services, announced the funding for the Youth Opportunities Fund project on Monday in Toronto. The Indigenous Friends Association will receive a $210,000 grant to expand the Indigenous Friends App beyond York University.

“Local groups best understand the unique needs of youth in their communities and the kinds of support they need most. That’s why our government has partnered with these grassroots organizations to offer new opportunities for youth to build the connections, communities and skills they need to achieve success in their interpersonal relationships, at school and in their careers,” said Coteau.

A mobile social networking tool, the Indigenous Friends App was created by students as a collaborative space to access traditional counselling, social networks, events calendars, and community resources.  It was developed, from the start, with the initiative and guidance of the Indigenous community at York – Elders, students, faculty, and Aboriginal Student Association staff.

Alejandro Mayoral-Banos, a PhD candidate who led the project and amplified it through Innovation York, is CEO of Indigenous Friends Association, a non-profit set up by the IP Osgoode Innovation Clinic, at York, to offer the app to universities and colleges in southern Ontario.

“This project is a wonderful example of student initiative, collaboration across the Indigenous communities at York and beyond, and the impact that York students have on society,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton.  “These students identified a need in their community, reached out for advice on how to expand it and now, with the support of the Ontario government, will be able to share it with Indigenous students at many more campuses.”

The local host screen of the app organizes the user’s preferences

The Aboriginal Student Association at York University will use the Indigenous Friends App version 2.0 this fall as its primary organizing tool, including event coordination and access to York-specific resources for student success.

“Student success has become one of my top priorities for the students I represent, and through the Indigenous Friends App, I am able to connect with the Indigenous community at York in a safe and culturally appropriate setting,” said Stefan Piercey, Salteaux-Ojibway from Fort Alexander-Sagkeeng First Nation and the current president of the Aboriginal Students Association at York.

“The Indigenous Friends App makes community and support accessible for all Indigenous students on campus using technology they already have – their smart phones – to ensure each and every one of them succeeds,” he added.

The app features include access to traditional counselling to communicate with Elders or traditional counsellors. Traditional knowledge can be accessed in the form of FAQs, forums, and linked resources. An Elder directory, individual chats, and public forums enable the creation of new Indigenous networks.