by Brittney Hansen
In the article, Native student bridges the gap between two worlds, by Cathy Lord, the struggles Indigenous men and women have experienced within education are revealed. For many Indigenous Peoples, attending and completing school is a challenge and often discouraged. Indigenous student enrollment is low within elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Ben Houle experienced this first hand at Ashmont secondary high school. He felt the pressures from his parents and friends when it came to completing his education. He was forced to choose between education and friendship because his peers did not view education with the same importance. He began his education journey with an intense fear of failure. However, as he continued through his post-secondary education through Concordia’s former University and College Entrance Program (UCEP), he began to excel and gain a sense of confidence in his ability as an Indigenous male student. He finished his first year program with honours, obtaining the second highest mark in his 1987 graduating class. Houle shows the importance of believing in your ability and successes in order to accomplish anything that comes your way.
Christine Hunter, the UCEP valedictorian for her and Ben’s graduating year, shows that no matter where you are within your life you can gain education. Hunter began attending post-secondary school through Concordia’s UCEP program at the age of 35 owing to a prior commitment to raising her children. Her previous school experience was one that involved feelings of isolation. When she began school the institutions held more non-Indigenous students than Indigenous, and this led to name-calling and racism that Hunter felt while attending school. This is difficult for many Indigenous students as they feel a disconnect with their culture while attending school and often feel excluded within the classroom. The UCEP program allowed both Hunter and Houle to make the cultural connections that they needed for their academic success.
Due to Indigenous students fearing failure and education in general, we need to embrace the needs of students such as these and reinforce positive educational experiences. Education, according to Houle, is vital to the survival of Indigenous Peoples and it is important for native youth to begin this journey.
As a Métis woman, my cultural background was not an aspect of my identity I embraced. Post-secondary made me more aware and proud of my cultural background. Concordia’s Indigenous Knowledge and Research Centre promotes a safe space to gather and meet other Indigenous students. The centre allows me to meet friends that also embrace their culture and education. We can be proud and confident in our backgrounds and successes as Indigenous Peoples.
Concordia’s CUE 100 committee is very excited to feature the written work of several students and alumni as part of its centenary celebrations. As these celebrations continue, you can look forward to reading short articles by these writers on interesting aspects of Concordia’s history over the past century. Writers were given access to archival documents on particular topics which they were asked to summarize and personally respond to. You’ll be able to discover much about Concordia’s history and how it still resonates among us today. We hope you find these articles both informative and entertaining. Happy 100, Concordians!