It is clear that many issues faced by First Nations, Inuit or Métis students are not adequately addressed through regular, mainstream student support and counselling services. The Aboriginal Resource Centre (ARC) in the department of Student Life at the University of Guelph is working with a number of partners to provide an Aboriginal-specific, collaborative model that focuses on the holistic support of Aboriginal students. By building flexible and culturally sensitive relationships, the ARC is able to integrate Aboriginal wisdom and worldviews and appropriate, culturally respectful approaches to more effectively engage and support Aboriginal students in their academic and personal development journeys. The ARC serves self-identified Aboriginal students of any First Nations, Inuit or Métis background who wish to seek assistance. This model allows students to choose an Aboriginal path, largely via linking them with Aboriginal Elders, healers and community helpers, a more Western-based path, or an approach that combines aspects of both.
The initial partnership was built between Aboriginal ARC staff and a Senior Counsellor from Counselling Services, with significant background and involvement in Aboriginal community, culture and worldviews, who began working together to develop this initiative from both sides of a ‘bridge’. The partnership grew to involve meaningful collaboration between Counselling Services, the ARC, the University of Guelph’s Aboriginal Advisory Council, local Elders and Community Helpers in order to appropriately guide and build the relationships, linkages and supports required.
Working with the ARC, the Counsellor maintains a dedicated half-day per week at the Centre for appointments and drop-in visits as well as co-facilitating Sharing Circles with the ARC Manager. The Visiting Elders maintain monthly, day-long visits to meet with students and the campus community. Through these relationships, the ARC Manager, Aboriginal Program Coordinator, Counsellor and Visiting Elders have networked to assist students, including several at-risk learners.
A new relationship has been established with Learning Services to provide Aboriginal learners with satellite access to their programs by hosting Learning Services Peers at the ARC. This collaboration included focus groups with Aboriginal learners to assess their learning needs, and the creation, training and support of two Aboriginal Learning Support Peers to provide continued services at the ARC.
The goal of these partnerships and services are not to segregate Aboriginal learners on campus but rather to provide flexible and culturally relevant options for those who prefer that option. Our hope is to assist Aboriginal learners to develop a self-knowledge of their values, abilities and personal goals while broadening their help seeking skills and self-reliant behaviours. While these initiatives have been designed for the benefit of self-identified Aboriginal students through the ARC, it is apparent that the model may be useful with other student populations who may not always engage with the standard service model.
Student satisfaction has been assessed through confidential surveys and can be appraised through the increased and continued student engagement. As the Counsellor and Visiting Elders sessions become routinely booked, it is apparent that the services need to expand to meet student need.