Dr. Geoffrey Payne joined University of North British Columbia (UNBC) as president just 19 days before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “What a way to start life as a president.”
With that opening remark, Payne joined Dr. Mike Porritt of The Scion Group Advisory Services for a discussion of how to successfully recruit and accommodate students from Canada’s Indigenous communities, a priority for many Western Canadian university officials. The discussion was held at SHURE-Vancouver on April 20. University of British Columbia hosted the event.
British Columbia is home to Canada’s most robust and active Indigenous community. As of 2022, there were approximately 200,000 Indigenous people in the province, with more than 30 unique First Nation languages and 60 dialects. In addition, as of 2022, there were approximately 8,700 Indigenous learners at provincial university and colleges. Universities in British Columbia have a high number of Indigenous students. Targeting and accommodating Indigenous learners has been a consistent challenge.
“Pretty much every school north of Sudbury in Ontario has more significant Indigenous populations,” according to Dr. Mike Porritt of The Scion Group Advisory Services. “It’s important to listen and hear about the specific cultural needs that that particular place is dealing with and where those students are coming from.”
Payne said that UNBC’s approach to supporting Indigenous students continues, and will be aspirational, but the work is never done. He said that UNBC continues to “strive to improve, listen, learn and, and make sure Indigenous students that come to UNBC and from other locations are well supported while engaging with the university on their academic and learning journey.”
According to Payne, about 1.5% of his population represents Indigenous students, but that number is growing, and his university must be flexible and adaptable. “We want to ensure that potential students from Indigenous communities have the opportunity to come to UNBC. We have so many communities and we need multiple approaches.”
Payne said that the executive chef at the Prince George campus cafeteria caters to students with Indigenous food.
Porritt of The Scion Group noted that with just about every college and university in Canada there are issues that are very specific to Indigenous students. “Some of those issues are in general and go countrywide, but they’re also very specific to the campuses and the areas in which those campuses are found.”
Porritt said it comes down to the basic question: “Are you making it good for the Indigenous students?” If your system is having success with that challenge, Porritt said that “in the process of doing that, you’re making it better for everybody.”