Dr.  Sheila Cote-Meeks, Associate Vice-President, Academic and Indigenous Programs at Laurentian University with special guest, author Waub Rice.

Dr. Sheila Cote-Meeks, Associate Vice-President, Academic and Indigenous Programs at Laurentian University with special guest, author Waub Rice.

By Heather Campbell

SUDBURY – Laurentian University celebrated Indigenous Education Week from October 20-24 with a focus on the increasing number of indigenous academics and the knowledge they contribute.

“We have a critical mass of indigenous Faculty and a lot of expertise at Laurentian University now, “said Dr.  Sheila Cote-Meeks, Associate Vice-President, Academic and Indigenous Programs at Laurentian University.

The university’s enrollment is just over 11,000 students with 11 per cent now identifying as First Nation, Metis or Inuit. With departments and programs dedicated to creating greater accessibility for indigenous students Cote-Meeks expects the numbers to increase in the coming years.

This September the brand new Masters in Indigenous Relations welcomed nine students. “They come from a variety of backgrounds like mining and health. We are off to a really great start,” said an excited Cote-Meeks.

In 2016 the university expects to open the 75,000 square foot Sharing and Learning Centre making the university a desirable destination for post-secondary education for indigenous students from around the world.

To open the week special guest Waubageshig Rice, citizen of Wasauksing First Nation, helped start the week off by sharing his own journey through the education system. He began his early schooling at the Ryerson Day School in the community, which was renamed Wausaksing Kinomaugewgammik after parents lobbied and eventually took control. What sparked Rice’s education was the experience of being an exchange student in Germany. Today he is a graduate of Ryerson University’s journalism program and has been a journalist with CBC for many years.

The presentations during the week were focused on sharing research about reclaiming and pursuing indigenous knowledge. Special guest speaker Dr. Marie Battiste, author of Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit, a M’ikmaw professor of education at the University of Saskatchewan, shared about the work she has done to raise awareness of the impact of the education system on Indigenous peoples.

There were over a dozen presentations from both new and seasoned academics.