Post-secondary support for First Nations continue

The College of New Caledonia’s campuses in the Nechako region have received $90,000 to support aboriginal access to education.

Vanderhoof’s aboriginal support worker Reg Mueller (left) and Saik’uz Chief Stanley Thomas at CNC‘s annual Cultural Week in March 2015.

The College of New Caledonia’s campuses in the Nechako region have received $90,000 from the Ministry of Advanced Education to support the Aboriginal Service Plan for the 2015-2016 school year.

Subject to annual application, the funding will continue to allow aboriginal support workers in Vanderhoof and Fort St. James to help aboriginal students with an holistic approach, said Scott Zayac, CNC’s district principal for Nechako and Lakes District.

The college has received $510,727 in total for the Aboriginal Service Plan to cover CNC’s geographical area encompassing a large number of First Nation communities in the region, Zayac said.

Addressing all aspects of the student’s learning journey, the support worker keeps the line of communication succinct between the students and the faculty, the needs of their personal life at home, the bands, and the institution’s administrators, said Sarah John, CNC’s aboriginal liaison advisor.

“Sometimes for aboriginal people, with the amount, the length and extent of barriers they have to overcome in order to just access some of the programs,” John said.

“The aboriginal support worker has a real gift in alleviating some of those barriers.”

She explained that through regular student updates in education meetings with the area’s seven First Nation bands, the support worker acts as an advocate for the student to the community and eases the extra systemic processes that non-aboriginal students don’t have to go through.

“We have to address our band, we have to make sure that we have the skills for one thing, but also support from the community, in order to go,” John said.

She added that on campus, support workers also provide emotional support for students, as they may be intimidated at times when attending college fresh from high school or after years of work, as well as the long history of residential schools’ impact on communities.

“My hope is that in the future, we’ll all feel very confident in ourselves to walk through the door and access programs,” John said, adding that enrollment has gone up since 2007.

According to the provincial government, the goal of Aboriginal Service Plans, launched in 2012, is to increase the number of aboriginal graduates by 75 per cent by the 2020-21 school year.

3,241 credentials have been given to aboriginal students in 2013-14, an increase of 23 per cent from the program’s first inception.