Inclusivity and respect are not optional at St. Mary’s University.
And these values are at the heart of some of the innovative programs and initiatives the teaching and research university with Catholic roots has developed to help support a growing number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) students attending the school.
Since the school is located on traditional Blackfoot territory and close to Siksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations communities, the school’s leadership sees the recruitment and support of FNMI students, who are underrepresented at post-secondary institutions, as a great way to bolster their participation and progress.
Success, however, will only be achieved by tailoring programs and adjusting the learning environment to meet the specific needs of FNMI students, says Bob Hann, vice-president of student services.
“We need to create a learning environment that is safe and inclusive,” says Hann. “We recognize and honour that the land upon which we sit is traditional Blackfoot territory. We have a lot of learning to do together as a university, and we are committed to taking our direction from our FNMI advisory council as they lead us in our vision and goals.”
The university offers support and encouragement to FNMI students in tangible and practical ways.
The Elders on Campus program ensures elders are available by appointment.
Casey Eagle Speaker and Edmee Comstock visit campus one afternoon each week. They also lead cultural and spiritual ceremonies onsite, including an upcoming FNMI partnership launch event in which Eagle Speaker will be transferring a buffalo robe to the university.
“We also have the Scholars on Campus program to help us better understand FNMI ways of knowing, being and learning,” says Michelle Scott, the university’s FNMI liaison specialist.
Special events provide FNMI students with opportunities to grow in cultural knowledge as well.
The Ghost River Rediscovery Project, for example, will give FNMI students an opportunity to participate in a nine-day journey to explore the connection between First Nations culture and nature.
“We want to support all FNMI students through community partnerships, celebrations of heritage and cultural practices with the provision of an inclusive learning environment,” says Scott.