BENJAMIN PRIEBE The Standard
The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) has partnered with the Baagwating Community Association and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island to fund the building of their new Aboriginal Resource Centre (ARC). The new ARC building, located at 151 Athol St. in Oshawa, aims to expand UOIT's current aboriginal workshops and outreach programs into a larger facility. The large and beautifully sculpted structure is projected to finalize construction by the end of March, and will open with an official ceremony in the coming months.
Jill Treen, UOIT's Aboriginal Student Development and Outreach Specialist and a self-identified Métis, works in the current ARC to "provide Aboriginal and non-aboriginal students with anything they need, from traditional meals and ceremonies to workshops where they create dream-catchers, to help with the application process for bursaries and grants."
The current ARC at UOIT is a small room, which offers a comfortable home-away-from-home. The space is used by Aboriginal and non-aboriginal students alike to relax, study, and have a coffee with friends - while surrounded by the culture native to Canada, from B.C. to Nova Scotia.
Ms. Treen explained that the Baagwating Community Association has been instrumental in the expansion and advances of the ARC centre. The new building, located at 151 Athol St. in Oshawa, has even been named the Baagwating Indigenous Student Centre, in recognition of the more than $450,000 that was contributed to construction by the local organization.
"UOIT has a very good relationship with the Mississaugas of Scugog Island," said Ms. Treen. "We work together to revitalize and raise awareness of aboriginal culture in Durham, they help us with the ceremonies and workshops we offer to our students, and we attend their powwows once per year on Scugog Island."
Being a Métis woman herself, Ms. Treen strives to support and encourage knowledge of the Aboriginal culture, among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
"I think it is important because it fosters an inclusive community and awareness of our roots," said Ms. Treen. "Since the campus is located on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of Scugog First Nation and it is projected that Oshawa alone has roughly 10,000 First Nations people; we want to bring that community together and let them be proud, especially the young adults."
According to Ms. Treen, the ARC, which mirrors many similar centres at post-secondary schools across Ontario, "attempts to close the educational attainment gaps between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, by supporting First Nations students in their academic career."
However, Ms. Treen believes that the issues facing Aboriginal students do not lie solely in marks and test-grades, but aso in the fact that many of their 85 self-identified students are the first generation in their family to strive for post-secondary education.
A StatsCan report details the gradually rising, but still low, education rate within the Aboriginal population. "In 2006, one-third or 33 per cent of Aboriginal adults aged 25 to 54 had less than a high school education compared to nearly 13 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population, a difference of 20 percentage points."
The entire staff of UOIT's ARC are proud of the fact that they go above and beyond when giving their students anything they could need. Ms. Treen even goes as far as contacting the enrolled and self-indentified students before they even start their first semester, and offer beneficial programs and services in an effort to foster a strong and personal relationship - she attributes UOIT's 97 per cent retention rate of Aboriginal students to this.
"Moving forward we want to expand and grow our community and the services we offer," said Ms. Treen. "One program I would like to implement is tutoring - we would have university students tutor other university students, who would then tutor high school students. It's all about mentoring and building a strong connection to both education and traditional culture."
Stay tuned to The Standard for further information regarding the official opening of the Baagwating Indigenous Student Centre and further services offered by the ARC.