University and college Aboriginal advisory groups meet in Niagara this week

Sandra Wong and volunteer student peers in the Aboriginal Student Services offices at Brock preparing for this week’s Aboriginal Education Council (AEC) Gathering

Sandra Wong and volunteer student peers in the Aboriginal Student Services offices at Brock preparing for this week’s Aboriginal Education Council (AEC) Gathering

Close to 200 people involved in Aboriginal education and student services at Ontario colleges and universities will meet at Brock University and in Niagara Falls this week to further discussions on improving access and support, and providing a culturally-relevant learning experience for students.

The Council of Ontario Universities (COU) in collaboration with Colleges Ontario and Brock University is hosting the Aboriginal Education Council (AEC) Gathering on Thursday, Nov. 8 and Friday, Nov. 9 in Niagara.

This first-of-its-kind province-wide gathering is designed to engage and encourage dialogue among AECs at post-secondary education institutions. AECs partner with education stakeholders like Aboriginal community members and agencies to advise universities and colleges on how to best set up an inclusive and supportive learning environment for Aboriginal students.

“The big benefit of this gathering will be dialogue,” says Sandra Wong, a member of the COU’s Aboriginal Reference Group and Aboriginal Academic Program Support Co-ordinator at Brock.

“AECs have direct input into Aboriginal programming and services offered at post-secondary institutions and we’re going to have all the key players in the province under one roof at this gathering,” says Wong who is also Haudenosaunee, Wolf Clan.

“There is no point in reinventing the wheel, if something is working well at one institution, we want to be able to share that information with other AECs at other schools,” she says. “We really need to get together and have this dialogue, in one place, so that we can share our diverse perspectives and experiences.”

Invitations for the event were sent to an Aboriginal student, Elder, community member and senior administrator at every Ontario university and college with an AEC.

The gathering will feature speakers from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; the Education and Indigenous Peoples Education Circle; the Council of Ontario Universities; Six Nations of the Grand River; as well as a keynote address by Inuk singer and songwriter, and three-time Juno Award winner Susan Aglukark.

“The planning committee worked hard to make sure that we have good representation from all 4 directions of Ontario – east, north, south and west,” says Wong.

Program themes include leadership and community engagement; attraction, retention and completion; post-secondary transitions; and accountability and reporting.

“This is about enhancing good relationships,” says Jill Brindle, manager of Learning Services and Aboriginal Student Services at Brock. “Good relationships between universities and colleges and their communities, between universities and colleges, and between post-secondary institutions and the Ministry.”

The AEC Gathering kicks off at Brock University on Thursday with a pre-conference on self-identification from 12 noon to 3 p.m., followed by an evening welcome event. Friday’s program of panel discussions and breakout sessions takes place at the Doubletree Fallsview Resort and Spa in Niagara Falls, Ont. from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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