While physical distancing may keep the doors of Brock’s Aboriginal Student Services (AbSS) office temporarily closed, there is no shortage of outreach to the University’s Indigenous students and the Brock community as a whole.
Through informative social media posts, interactive craft exercises and online visits, the AbSS team is actively providing support for its students during an unprecedented time.
Aboriginal Academic Support Program Co-ordinator/Instructor Sandra Wong said the outreach activities mirror the type of support AbSS provides under normal circumstances.
“We want our students to know that we’re there for them,” she said. “If they are in St. Catharines or have headed to their home communities, we want them to feel that they are part of our Brock family.”
To maintain connections, Aboriginal Events Co-ordinator Cindy Biancaniello has been distributing sanitized craft kits, focusing on different areas of Indigenous art and design, to students through the mail or arranged drop offs.
The kits, which are free to self-identified students and available at a $5 material cost to the rest of the community, contain instructions and will soon be accompanied by pre-recorded crafting exercises on the AbSS Instagram account.
“We’ve found that the arts exercises we ran while people were on campus were very calming for our students,” said Biancaniello. “We hope these at-home crafts and online sessions can continue to help reduce stress and let us share our stories together while we are temporarily apart.”
The AbSS team has also connected with the wider community by distributing the kits to members of the Niagara Catholic District School Board’s Soaring Eagles programs and by posting regular INDIGEN-KNOW features on the AbSS Facebook account to share information about First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures.
With the length of social distancing measures still unknown, Wong said students will also have access to virtual meetings with Elders from several communities through video calls thanks to a program guided by Brock’s Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement, Amos Key Jr.
“We want to support our students with Elder counselling,” she said. “The Elders we consult with are a crucial support for all of us, and they are safe people for our students to talk to and seek guidance from.”
Elder Peter Beaucage from the Nipissing First Nation said he looked forward to meeting with Brock students virtually, as well as in person when they are allowed to do so again.
“I think it’s really good for students to know there are Elders available if they need to talk with someone,” he said. “They can ask questions that they have been wondering about for a long time and discover new information while interacting with knowledge keepers.”
While many students who visit AbSS are heading home for the summer, Wong said the new resources are helping to keep her team more connected to students than ever.
“We have never been so far apart, but we continue to feel so close,” she said. “In this time of crisis, when we are trying to socially distance ourselves, we can virtually come close together and continue to see so many familiar faces.”