“After Chris Metallic disappeared, his cousin Maddie Metallic [and I] started [the Aboriginal Support Group] in recognition that there are virtually no aboriginal support services or systems on campus,” Rebecca Watts said.
The Aboriginal Support Group had been in existence for around a year but was only officially launched last month, with an inaugural potluck. Since then the group has been very active, having recently held a vigil for Loretta Saunders, and meeting regularly with Vice President International and Affairs Ron Byrne to lobby for aboriginal student issues.
“Basically in every other university across Canada there is aboriginal support. I don’t really think that its fair that Mount Allison doesn’t [have any],” Watts said.
“[Mt.A] is in an area with a high population of Mi’kmaq people, so there should be some sort of aboriginal representative and services to make aboriginal people feel welcome,” she added.
Watts said there had been previous attempts at creating similar groups at Mt. A before but these have “fizzled out” again and again.
Looking at the response from the university, Watts is optimistic about the program’s survival. “I think it’s being received really well this year by students, and we are receiving a lot of attention from the administration.”
Joining other Aboriginal student groups across the country, the organization held a vigil for Loretta Saunders last week. Saunders, a twenty-six year old Inuk woman from Labrador, had been studying at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Her body was found on a highway near Salisbury, N.B. last month. Two people have been arrested for her murder. Students gathered at the Mt. A chapel to pray for Saunders and her family.
Besides regular group meetings on the second Tuesday of every month, every three weeks the organization meets with Byrne to push their agenda. Right now they are aiming to create an aboriginal studies minor, and a check box on Mt. A applications for students to mark if they have aboriginal ancestry.
“We really made a lot of progress with [Byrne on] the aboriginal studies minor and the check box,” Watts said, mentioning that past students have crafted an Aboriginal studies minor independently. After finding a lot of Aboriginal content in a number of existing courses they decided to make the minor a priority.
They are hoping to include an optional check box on Mt. A applications in order to understand how many aboriginal students are attending the university. This would be useful because, “from that we would know the services we would need to provide,” Watts said.
Mollie McGuire, another group member, does not identify as aboriginal but said she still felt that there was a need for the group on campus. “I think everyone stands to benefit from a democratic institution,” McGuire said.
Support services like those the organization hopes to offer are the subject of McGuire’s honours thesis. Her initial interest in the subject was sparked by an academic article she read. “It was basically about how culturally relevant curricula and aboriginal supports [have] a positive correlation with aboriginal students feeling supported [and performing better in school],” McGuire said.