Aboriginal orientation event welcomes new students to OISE
September 26, 2012
By Fred Michah Rynor
Toronto can be an intimidating city for new students and it can be especially overwhelming for those from smaller communities.
Adding to the everyday challenges of big city life is the added pressures associated with studying at Canada's largest university campus. To head off these traditional feelings of confusion, angst and information overload experienced by so many frosh, OISE's Indigenous Education Network (IEN) held an orientation event focused directly on First Nation, Métis and other Aboriginal students.
Attending the September 20th event were faculty and staff of OISE, members of the university's Aboriginal community and Toronto Aboriginal organizations who all came together to inform new students that not only are there many programs, services, clubs and institutions available to address their concerns but to let them know that there are people genuinely concerned with their academic and personal well-being.
Representatives from the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Central Option, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, and the Infinite Reach Network partnered with U of T reps such as First Nations Elder Cat Criger, Shannon Simpson of First Nations House and OISE Dean Julia O'Sullivan.
"We want our students to be introduced to the extensive Aboriginal network that exists both on and off campus," stated Steven Vanloffeld, a coordinator with the IEN. "In the past, we've had potential OISE students turn down letters of acceptance because of the unease they felt coming to such a large campus and city and it was decided that we would show these newcomers the wealth of services and institutions available to them when they get here."
Vanloffeld added that there is a big push across Canada to expand Aboriginal education options and programs and that OISE is at the forefront of this initiative. For example, twice a month a counselor comes to OISE from First Nations House to offer academic and financial guidance and support to Aboriginal students.
"Many of the approximately 75 people who attended the orientation weren't aware of the extent of services available to them throughout the University and Toronto," says Vanloffeld. "This student orientation, the IEN’s first, was definitely a success on many levels and the feedback we've received so far is that this was certainly beneficial not only to the students but to U of T because many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students are involved in academic and campus activities involving indigenous peoples."
Statistics show there are approximately 70,000 people living in the city who identify as Aboriginal and this population, states Vanloffeld, is an incredible resource for OISE's Aboriginal community.
"OISE is well on its way to becoming a leader in Aboriginal education," Vanloffeld says, "and we're certainly doing our part to cultivate teachers with skills and passion so our grads can have a positive impact on their communities and the communities in which they work -- especially since Aboriginal peoples are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population
OISE is a signatory to the Accord on Indigenous Education which emphasizes a strong framework for its signatories to work together to advance education in Canada so Indigenous identities, cultures, languages, values, ways of knowing, and knowledge systems will flourish in all Canadian learning settings.