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Indigenization Guide: Indigenous Student Diversity

The following is an excerpt from Pulling Together: A Guide for Front-Line Staff, Student Services, and Advisors by Ian Cull, Robert L. A. Hancock, Stephanie McKeown, Michelle Pidgeon, and Adrienne Vedan.

Indigenous students attending BC post-secondary institutions represent over 600 distinct First NationsMétis, and Inuit communities from across Canada. Many institutions also recognize Native Americans as Indigenous students. Indigenous student enrolment is increasing, and these students approach post-secondary through two streams:

  • High school graduates (in 2015/16 the Ministry of Education reported [PDF][1] 64 percent of Indigenous students completed high school, an increase of 7 percent in the past six years)
  • Non-traditional students (mature students without Grade 12 credentials who are upgrading their high school marks)

Indigenous students are also parents and community leaders with a great breadth and depth of life experience. Some students will come to post-secondary institutions confident in who they are as Indigenous people; they have grown up within their culture, understand their language, and are strongly affirmed in their identities. Others, due to systemic impacts of colonization, such as residential schools, the 60s scoop, intergenerational trauma, and lost family histories, will come to post-secondary education in search (or even in denial) of their Indigenous identities. Indigenous identities are further complicated by where students grew up. Whether a student grew up in an urban centre or rural community or off-reserve or on-reserve will have an impact on their Indigenous identity.

Support services within post-secondary institutions

Keeping this diversity in mind, providing culturally relevant support services is critical to Indigenous student success. Many of the post-secondary institutions have either departments or Indigenous academic coordinators or advisors[2] for students to connect and interact throughout their enrolment and completion of programs.

The role of the an Indigenous academic coordinator has not always been easy to define as Janice Simcoe from Camosun College noted in 2002:

From the first days, we realized that the position of First Nations coordinator is a challenging one. It is one thing to say that these positions were supposed to support student success. It was quite another to define what that meant and develop ways to do it. We needed to examine the academic, financial, social, and cultural needs of the students we had been hired to support, and establish or learn ways to help them meet these needs. That was, and continues to be, an extraordinary challenge … Over the years we have evolved. There were only about nine of us at that first gathering. Now there are at least 52 people in the system who have official responsibility to promote First Nations student success. (Ministry of Advanced Education, p. 1-2)

Today Indigenous academic coordinators or advisors support Indigenous student diversity by meeting them where they are at in their cultural and community identify. Students will seek out different things; for instance:

  • Students learning more about who they are as an Indigenous person will often seek cultural supports for their personal journey to make a deeper connection to their culture or understand what it means to be Indigenous.
  • Students secure in their cultural identity will seek a feeling of community, and make the Indigenous student services department their culturally safe home away from home.

If your campus has an Indigenous student services department, the advisors or coordinators in this department can be a great support for Indigenous students and for anyone wanting advice about Indigenous issues. It’s important to keep in mind that people working in Indigenous student services are often very busy as the holistic services they provide also includes connecting with Indigenous communities; depending upon how many Indigenous advisors and coordinators are in your institution, you may or may not have a delayed response to your requests.


  1. Ministry of Education Report: http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/reports/pdfs/ab_hawd/Public.pdf 
  2. The BC Aboriginal Post-Secondary Advisory (BCAPSA) is a network of advisors and coordinators from across the province who provide services and supports to Indigenous students and work with Indigenous communities. 

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