By this fall, First Nation teachings will become an integral part of the curriculum and staff training at Cambrian College in Sudbury.
The college officially ratified its Indigenous Education Protocol on June 20, at a ceremony in the Sacred Arbour on the main campus.
This is an agreement and implementation plan to integrate First Nation culture and traditional knowledge.
The celebration brought out a large crowd of elders, students, staff and onlookers to partake in the ceremony, which included the signing, as well as a conference that included lighting a sacred fire, a sharing circle, smoking of the ceremonial pipe, berries and water sharing and a feast plate offering.
“This is a celebration if Indigenous Culture and education,” said Bill Best, Cambrian College's president. “We want to make the college a welcoming place, in which our Indigenous partners can come and work with us, and increase our understanding with our students, faculty and staff.”
The protocol commits the college to several measures, including:
Integrating Indigenous education into Cambrian's academic programming.
Providing ongoing education to faculty and staff on Indigenous culture, traditions and history.
Acknowledging the Calls to Action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Providing cultural, academic, and counselling support to Indigenous learners.
Strengthening relationships and accountability with Indigenous communities.
The protocol has been about two years in the making, Best explained, with the college taking the next eight to 12 weeks to fully implement it into programming.
It is being designed to bring awareness and recognition for all students, as well as foster a welcoming atmosphere for Indigenous students.
Implementation had been underway for some time. Staff have been going through Truth and Reconciliation training, as well as implementing new Indigenous courses.
Best said they are very confident with everything in the document, as the college either has already implemented them, will implement them or are actively working on them for future implementation.
This protocol is part of the national Indigenous Education Protocol for Colleges and Institutes that 56 colleges signed more than two years ago. Best said Cambrian was an early adopter.
While it's a national initiative, he explained they want to have a localized perspective.
Co-signing was Ron Sarazin, chair of the Circle for Indigenous Education at Cambrian College. He said this protocol was to make sure First Nation people from all over the province could come to the college and feel welcome and comfortable.
They want to make Cambrian the first choice for Indigenous students coming from around the province. Currently about 16 per cent of the student population identifies as Indigenous.
“There are families in the remote Northern communities are experiencing difficulties with sending students south due to safety concerns,” Sarazin said. “I want them to think this is a safe, welcoming school.”
He stressed that the protocol is written for Indigenous and non-Indigenous. He added that staff have really appreciated coming to ceremonies and expanding their understanding of culture and history, so they can understand where students are coming from.
He added that the Wabnode Centre for Aboriginal Services on campus has gained a reputation among students as welcoming and helpful to students starting out, giving them support throughout their studies.
The holistic approach is being welcomed by many.
Kelly Senecal led the conference before the ceremony and was very pleased to see the protocol signed. But it's the actions that mean the most to him.
“I see that within our community, that forwardness in a good way has started,” he said. “I am very proud to be a part of that community.”
Offering cultural supports to students means their spiritual teachings are being recognized as critical to their education.
Having a spiritual identity, Senecal explained, helps to guide them in the right direction. And fostering the openness to share gives them courage and the ability to speak and keep going forward.
The protocol is scheduled to be in place for the start of the fall class session.