A traditional Aboriginal Sharing Circle was held on March 16 in order to raise awareness about Aboriginal issues at UTM. Rebeka Tabobondung, the post-secondary education & training plan coordinator, organized the meeting and asked those present a series of questions on how to better serve the needs of Aboriginal students.
Several issues, such as the lack of Aboriginal educational subjects at UTM, were raised. Mohamed Awad, a fourth-year double major in history and diaspora and transnational studies, and president of the UTM Historical Studies Society, expressed concerns about the lack of an Aboriginal Studies Program at UTM. Mohamed also spoke about a curriculum audit conducted in one of the courses he was taking, WGS369Y5: gender, colonialism and cultural resistance. The purpose of the curriculum audit was to analyze how culturally sensitive the courses offered at UTM are, and it found that UTM offers very few courses that taught Aboriginal studies.
Mohamed suggested that more curriculum audits would be helpful in raising awareness about Aboriginal culture at UTM, and he also encouraged the idea of visits from Aboriginal elders to UTM. However, Mark Overton, UTM dean of student affairs, noted the difficulty of offering such courses at UTM when the Aboriginal community on campus is extremely small, overlooking perhaps the potential for non-Aboriginal students to take such courses.
Glenda Gill, associate registrar for recruitment and admissions at UTM, encouraged the presence of an elder — essentially a respected leader in the Aboriginal community — at UTM in order to guide Aboriginal students on campus.
Another important issue concerning Aboriginal students is the many barriers that they may face when trying to access post-secondary education. Dale Mullings, director of student housing and residence life, encouraged the idea of making Aboriginal students aware of culturally-sensitive services, so that such potential students can make a comfortable transition into university life. Mullings proposed that First Nations House, an organization located at the St. George campus that provides culturally sensitive services to Aboriginal students, reach out to UTM students as well, so that they are aware of services that can help them toward success in university.
Offering a First Nations perspective, Cat Criger, an elder advisor who is part of the Elder Advisors Committee, encouraged cross-cultural teaching. This would allow students to be made aware of Aboriginal culture, which would encourage a stronger Aboriginal presence at UTM. He suggested holding events, such as Aboriginal Awareness Week, to raise awareness about First Nations culture and to help create a sense of belonging for Aboriginal students. This could also lead to bringing other Aboriginal events to UTM, such as Native Friendship Circles and Powwows for example, in order to help Aboriginal students feel more connected to their own culture.