SFU seeking more aboriginal students

Mar 20, 2003, vol. 26, no. 6
By Stuart Colcleugh

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Assistant professor of archeology Eldon Yellowhorn and 4th year archaeology student Amanda King, who has a minor in First Nation Studies, recently attended the academic options day on campus, recruiting students to the First Nations studies minor program.

SFU hopes to eventually double its First Nations population as a result of several initiatives now under way to encourage aboriginal enrolment, says VP-academic John Waterhouse.

First Nations students currently number about 400, or two per cent of the university's 20,000 student population, including 200 participants in the SFU and Secwepemc Cultural Education Society partnership (SFU-SCES) program in Kamloops.

“Our goal is to increase that number to an amount that is proportionate with the province's overall First Nations population,” says Waterhouse, which is about 4.3 per cent, according to the 2001 federal census.

The university's First Nations advisory council, composed of distinguished First Nations leaders, faculty, students and administration representatives, will play a key role in the process by helping to guide development of new programs and services.

So, too, will the new Chief Dan George (CDG) centre for advanced studies at Harbour Centre, which was conceived as a partnership between the aboriginal community and the university to provide First Nations students with better access to university level educational opportunities.

One of the centre's first programs is an aboriginal version of the home instruction program for parents of preschool youngsters (HIPPY). HIPPY employs trained home visitors to coach parents to be their children's first teachers, developing their cognitive and coordination skills. The idea is to help socially disadvantaged parents prepare their children for kindergarten.

Other CDG offerings may include certificate programs in aboriginal tourism, small business development, First Nations public service, aboriginal film production, and leadership and policy management, to name just a few.

In addition, students can now earn a minor in First Nations studies at either the Burnaby campus or as part of the original SFU-SCES program in Kamloops, in conjunction with any major or honours bachelor's degree program.

The university still has a number of challenges ahead such as increasing the number of First Nations instructors - there are only two, although several others have Native roots - bolstering the scholarships, grants and other funds available to aboriginal students, and finding additional space for increased counselling and support services.

“There are things out there that we don't have a lot of control over, particularly for students interested in pursuing science because of a lack of lab facilities at some of the more remote high schools,” says associate dean of arts Tom Perry. “But we're moving on a variety of fronts and I think we'll see an improved and more active recruiting effort.

“There aren't any real good examples we can copy. That's why the guiding principles of the First Nations advisory council will be invaluable in steering us in the right direction.”

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