Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre hosts President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Group discussion surrounds issues faced by Indigenous youth in post-secondary environment 

Natan Obed (right) vists Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre. 

On Tuesday night, a prominent figure in the Canadian Inuit community visited the Four Directions Aboriginal Centre to discuss how universities can support Indigenous students during their post-secondary careers. 

President Natan Obed of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami sat down with members from the Queen’s Native Students Association (QNSA), administrators at Queen’s and Indigenous students to discuss the complex and unique experiences of Indigenous adolescents, specifically the Inuit population. 

The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is an interest group that represents four regions of Canada’s Inuit population. The organization conducts public outreach, research, education as well as advocacy on various issues affecting Inuit people and presents their findings and priorities to Parliament. 

For Lauren Winkler, the president’s visit was a significant addition to the ongoing discussion of Indigenous student support at Queen’s. Obed’s time spent on campus follows the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report at the University in April 2017 and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance’s report on Indigenous students. 

“Increasingly, we are hearing a lot more from the Indigenous community, but such a small population of Queen’s is Inuit,” Winkler told The Journal in an interview. “It’s really important because we’re between two Mohawk territories and there are other Indigenous groups down here. We don’t hear a lot of the Inuit voice.”

During the conversation, Obed stressed the importance of programs that assist in transitioning Indigenous learners into the post-secondary environment. When referencing prospective Queen’s students, Obed said a transitional program, something the school doesn’t currently have, could help accommodate culture shock upon arrival. 

Obed also spoke to broader issues facing Indigenous youth, like suicide rates and food insecurity. For Winkler, it was important to have a discussion on these different topics. 

“There’s just so many problems, but because we’re so physically far removed from it, we just allow ourselves to ignore [them],” she said. 

Citing Indigenous youth as often being unprepared or uncertain in their abilities prior to their arrival at post-secondary school, Obed said role models can have a major impact. Looking at how current Indigenous students are handling life after secondary school, Obed said both mentorship and internships have done a good job of instilling confidence in students.

Director of Indigenous Initiatives Janice Hill also spoke during the discussion. She evaluated the possibility of creating an Aboriginal alumni chapter to unite Indigenous students and alumni through the University.

“We’ve explored a couple of opportunities, like online introduction or some kind of an event we could have on campus where we bring some Indigenous alumni to engage with students,” she told the group. 

In addition to creating transitional programs and increasing the amount of role models available to Indigenous students, Obed believes a physical space of support is essential to establishing a supportive environment. 

“I think just providing a space, number one, for Indigenous students to connect and have a sense of community goes a long way in ensuring that Indigenous peoples feel welcome in the post-secondary environment,” he said. “There’s always specific challenges that Indigenous peoples face, so having an organization that helps navigate or helps people link with different services is essential.”

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