On Wednesday, March 7, Brock University will work to strengthen its bond with Indigenous communities on Manitoulin Island by hosting an event at M’Chigeeng Community Complex that brings together more than 100 students to learn about post-secondary opportunities.
The event, called Weh Weh Neh (translation from Ojibwe: ‘Doing Things Right’), will highlight Brock’s partnership with Weengushk Film Institute and examine potential future paths with Grade 8 and high school students.
Sandra Wong, Brock’s Aboriginal Academic Support Program Co-ordinator, said the initiative aims to continue building the University’s relationship with students on Manitoulin and in the Sudbury region.
Following a traditional Anishinaabe opening with elders from the community, the day will begin with students learning about services offered by Brock’s Aboriginal Student Services, as well as University programming and OSAP funding. The youth will also will hear from Indigenous Brock alumni, who will speak of their own experiences at the University and following graduation.
“We want to show students there are people from their community who have attended Brock and been successful in their journey,” Wong said. “We want to introduce them to potential role models. We want them to take pride in the fact that someone from their community, Shirley Cheechoo, is our University Chancellor.”
Cheechoo is the eighth chancellor in Brock’s 54-year history, and the first woman and Indigenous Canadian to hold the significant leadership role at the University.
Wong said it’s critical that Indigenous students see themselves fitting into and growing within the education system.
“It’s important that we plant the seed in their minds that they, too, have equal access to this institution,” she said. “We want to gain their trust so they’re comfortable self-identifying with us when they do come to the institution. This way we can provide those needed supports and services.”
Colton Clause, Brock’s Aboriginal Events Co-ordinator, said outreach initiatives like this allow Brock to highlight services for Indigenous students, including supports available before they set foot on campus.
“We want to help them with the transition, help while they’re here, help with employment, connecting with community partners and seeking out possible funding initiatives,” Clause said. “We want to make them aware of the cultural support we offer so they don’t feel like they’re leaving a community, but transitioning to a community here at Brock.”
Having those measures in place can also help to ease homesickness and culture shock felt by students leaving their community for the first time, he said.
Wednesday’s event will also highlight Brock’s partnership with Weengushk Film Institute, in the Manitoulin community of M’Chigeeng, and the student opportunities that are available as a result. Through a collaboration that began in September 2016, Brock offers a certificate in film production that is taught at Weengushk. Taught by industry professionals, the eight-month program provides hands-on training on such aspects as screenwriting, producing, directing, cinematography, editing, composing and marketing. Students work towards writing and directing their own short film.
Founded in 2002 by Cheechoo — herself an award-winning film director — Weengushk is an artist-focused centre for capacity building in the media arts for both Indigenous youth and persons of diversity.
Brock plans to host its Manitoulin Island outreach event annually, and continue its involvement in the northern community with a presence at other events throughout the year. Aboriginal Student Services Recruiter/Liaison Officer Arlene Bannister hopes to become a familiar face in the area, helping to make students aware of the opportunities available to them at Brock.
“It’s important to develop these relationships within the community,” Wong said. “We want Aboriginal students to gain trust with this institution and for the community feel comfortable sending their children here.”