University life seems so exciting in the movies. From unpacking your brand new bed sheets to cooking your first meal alone, the possibilities seem endless.
The Indigenous transition from high school to postsecondary
Steve Kootenay-Jobin, the Indigenous housing and events coordinator at Mount Royal University’s (MRU) Iniskim Centre, says this picturesque image is not a reality for all students.
“It almost becomes this fictionalized Hollywood type of image. Where you have students arriving at the dorms, being dropped off by both parents and then their parents taking them shopping,” says Kootenay-Jobin.
“When that isn’t always the case.”
The transition from high school to post-secondary is difficult for many students. For Indigenous students, Jacob Lightning and Jonas Maclaurin, the experience was destabilizing.
Lighting came to MRU from Morley, Alta. — a reserve west of Calgary. While Maclaurin was raised in Calgary, both say they faced racism stemmed from deep-rooted stereotypes.
“I was asked by one of my roommates if I got everything for free. On one hand, it does make me feel a little bad if I am viewed [as having gotten] a free ride or not. I guess it’s just a little alienating,” says Lightning.
This kind of racial stereotyping is common.
“A lot of our students do feel discrimination. There [have] been numerous cases where racism has been happening on campus,” says Kootenay-Jobin.
Racism is just one additional barrier that Indigenous students experience when trying to navigate through university life, which makes organizations like the Iniskim Centre such an important support for Indigenous students.
The Iniskim Centre
Walk into MRU’s Iniskim Centre and you’re greeted with the light scent of burning sage and dimmed lights that create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
This is where many Indigenous students spend their time.
The Centre offers Indigenous students various programs and services that work to maximize student engagement and success, as well as working to raise awareness about Indigenous peoples and cultures.
“We are a one-stop shop. We have everything from academic needs to cultural and spiritual needs, as well as community-building,” says Kootenay-Jobin.
Some of the services include a women’s group, accessibility services, academic support and various workshops.
These supports are becoming even more important as the Indigenous student population grows across the country.
Recent statistics from Universities Canada show that from 2013 to 2015, course offerings for Indigenous students increased by 33 per cent, a number which continues to rise.
At MRU, 5.8 per cent of the student population self-identify as Indigenous Peoples. That is an increase of 2.3 per cent since September of 2010.
The university’s goal is to see Indigenous students make up seven per cent of the student population by 2025.
“Our people need to see themselves reflected in a post-secondary campus so that they realize that they can be anything they want and that they have support on campus,” says Kootenay-Jobin.
“[University is] about finding your passion and I feel like that’s what we do for a lot of students on campus.”
- By Monique LaBossiere, Bill Atwood and Jackson Reed