Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Congratulations to Lenora LeMay and her team on winning a Laurel Award for Post-secondary aboriginal Camps. . The Hope Foundation organized post-secondary camps for aboriginal students at the University of Alberta in May and November of 2011. The students, grades 5-7, came from Montana School at Hobbema and Mother Earth School, just west of Edmonton. The program was funded by. Given the right conditions, university is a good place to foster hope. It can show young people some possibilities for the future they might choose when they graduate from high school. At a glance we might think of post-secondary education as something that fosters hope because of the career possibilities it opens. But two instructors, Tracy Bear and Margaret-Ann Armour, gave interviews in preparation for the writing of this article. Coming from different perspectives, both stressed the importance of presenting the university as a place where these young students could feel that they would belong. Belonging, they said, was something the students would need to imagine before they would see a university as a place of hope for them. Tracy bear is passionate about university. As she strives to earn her third university degree, she is well acquainted with the obstacles that face aboriginal students. Tracy is Special Advisor to the Vice President academic. “We brought them to lunch in the council Chambers,” she says. We wanted to teach them how a university is run. So I asked them how many aboriginal University of Alberta students they believed there would be. Would there be 50, 100 or 1,000? They thought there would be 50, or 100. But I said No! There are almost 1,000.” Just knowing that so many of our people are on campus might be a trigger for them to say, ‘Hey, I belong here.’” Tracy remembers moving to various locations across Canada and never seeing another face and eyes that were brown like hers. She also recalls a time, just three months ago, when she went up in an elevator with five other women. All five were aboriginal, and each of them has a Ph.D. She says, “I just wish that the media and Canadian society could see those moments and see that there is so much more to aboriginal people than we usually see.” Asked why she is so passionate about the university option she says, “Coming to university has opened up a whole universe of opportunities that I never imagined. I planned to get one degree and go back home. At the start I wasn’t thinking of getting three. I went to New Zealand and I learned that there are aboriginal people around the world who are in similar situations.” At Hope Camp, Tracy taught a course in visual journaling. Using pictures as well as words, she guided the students through a process of documenting their camp experience. She hopes that future hope camps will have more involvement from some of the aboriginal students in faculties such as medicine and dentistry. She is now working with a team to develop an aboriginal gathering place at the centre of the campus. She says, “I am hoping this will be the starting place for future aboriginal hope camps. Having the students come on campus and not just see me, but seeing other aboriginal people doing all sorts of amazing things is, I think, the absolute idea of hope. It’s a fantastic camp and I love being involved.” Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour, a professor renowned for her efforts to make science accessible to a wide range of people, also mentions the need to belong. She tells a story to explain how this idea influenced the manner of her teaching. “When those students came in to the lab the group was quiet. Normally I would get things going by asking questions. But that wouldn’t be the right thing here. They need time to feel that they belong. So I talked for a while and then I went right into having them make nylon.” The process of making nylon went very well. By the time the nylon was made, the students were involved. They were ready to ask and answer questions. After that, they went on to make Bakelite. She believes it is important for all of us to understand that science isn’t something that experts do in labs. Science is happening all around us, in the natural world, in our own bodies. Asked how an interest in chemistry might be extended beyond a single camp, Margaret-Ann said, “We have to make opportunities available for lifelong learning. The more you learn and the more you find interesting, the more likely you are to want to learn more. With aboriginal students, we come with baggage. Maybe we don’t work as hard to get them interested.” Margaret-Ann’s philosophy of science extends beyond the experiments that can be done in a lab. “Science can be informal.” It includes things known and understood through observation and experience. “Sometimes we devalue this knowledge because we think of it as not being proven by experiments. I hope the students will want to go on learning more about science. I try to talk about things that are meaningful in the life of the group.” Observing the group like any scientist worth her salt, Margaret-Ann noticed that “The group did a wonderful job of making nylon. Nobody did anything they weren’t supposed to, nobody spilled anything. I noticed that they had good hands.” When she mentioned this to their teachers, she was told that many of the students would have had experience making bannock. Hope is different things to different people. A post-secondary hope camp for young aboriginal students is one way that the Hope Foundation, working with partners, can foster a sense of boundless possibility, create a feeling of belonging, and ultimately offer a key to a future filled with hope.

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