Learning from New Zealand's Maori

January 13, 2005, vol. 32, no. 1
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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First Nations student centre director Sasha Hobbs is heartened by a recent research visit to New Zealand which proved to her that SFU's goal of increasing aboriginal enrollment is within reach “if the right supports are put in place across the institution.”

Last year, after hearing a lecture in Vancouver by Graham Smith, vice-chancellor of Maori at the University of Auckland, Hobbs was inspired to apply to SFU international's staff mobility initiative program, which supports staff exchanges or attachments to partner universities around the world.

“I had heard that several mainstream universities in New Zealand had innovative programs working with the Maori,” says Hobbs, “and I wanted to learn more about the development and implementation of Maori student services, academic programs and recruitment strategies.”

In early November, she spent four days at each of three campuses: the University of Auckland, the University of Waikato in Hamilton, and the University of Otago in Denedin.

Hobbs, who is Métis, notes that in B.C., five per cent of the population is aboriginal, compared with only one per cent of SFU's student population. In New Zealand, however, Maoris comprise 15 per cent of the country's population -- and 15 per cent of the post-secondary student population.

Hobbs attributes New Zealand's strong aboriginal representation to a willingness “to actively recruit aboriginals across all levels of the university including students, faculty and administration. In New Zealand, there is Maori representation at the vice-chancellor level. At SFU, we need to broaden the aboriginal network to make sure the aboriginal voice is heard at all levels.”

To that end, Hobbs thinks it is “a very good sign” that SFU recently appointed Lisa Sterling as special advisor on First Nations programs, reporting to the office of the VP-academic.

“At that level, she will be able to help move First Nations guiding principles and opportunities forward.”

Hobbs will present the practical outcomes of her New Zealand visit at a public lecture at noon on Jan. 19 at the Halpern centre on Burnaby Mountain.

“Of course we can't expect to do a cookie-cutter transfer of their programs, but much of what I learned will impact the next three-year strategic plan for First Nations student services. We will be encouraging student exchanges with New Zealand, for one, and also implementing a peer mentorship program to create a strong First Nations presence in various departments on campus.”

The application deadline for the next staff mobility initiative program is Jan. 20. Check www.sfu.ca/international/smi for more information.

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