Section 2: Who are Indigenous Students?

Myths that Impact Indigenous Student Experience

Indigenous students are not always in culturally safe spaces on campus. The concept of cultural safety recognizes that we need to be aware of and challenge unequal power relations at all levels: individual, family, community, and society. The reality is that many Indigenous students experience racial microaggressions daily and this ongoing harm creates feelings of isolation and unwelcomeness. A racial microaggression is a “subtle behaviour that [conveys] hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to persons of marginalized groups” (Shotton, 2017, p. 33). Negative messages are based on myths and stereotypes. Below are a few common misconceptions to dispel as you work with Indigenous students and build your allyship.

Indigenous students get 100 percent free education

Not all Indigenous students receive funding. There is a federal funding program called the Post-Secondary Student Support program,[1] but only status First Nations and Inuit post-secondary students are eligible for funding under this program. This program is underfunded, with little budgetary increase since the mid-1990s. This causes First Nations and Inuit-designated organizations, who administer the annual allotted funds to their membership, to ration who, how, and what is funded. For example, some eligible students will have just their books and supplies paid for while others will get their tuition if they enrol full-time. Some programs may not be eligible for funding, including any continuing education programs and some online programs. For those students who must relocate to attend college or university, costs such as housing, day care, and transportation, are often not covered. Métis and non-status First Nations students are not eligible for Post-Secondary Student Support funding, so they must seek student aid, scholarships, and bursaries. Métis students can also apply to Métis Nation BC for post-secondary funding through its Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program,[2] which is funded by Employment and Social Development Canada. Moreover, BC First Nations who have signed modern treaty agreements (for example, Nisga’a First Nation, Maa-nulth First Nations, Tsawwassen First Nation, Tla’min First Nation) no longer have access to the Post-Secondary Support Program and may or may not be able to provide post-secondary funding to their members. For more information about funding programs for Indigenous students, please see Appendix B.

Indigenous students are “underprepared”

Not Quite. Many Indigenous students are the first generation of learners to attend a post-secondary institution, so they may not know the processes involved in enrolment, transition, and graduation. Some students may need academic support to transition to the post-secondary classroom (for example, they may require tutors or academic support for numeracy, literacy, and technology); however, many will come fully prepared academically. 

Students of mixed ancestry are Métis

Not all “mixed blood” people are Métis. The Métis are members of an Indigenous nation with roots in the North American fur trade. While some of their ancestors are European, the salient characteristic of Métis identity is based on shared histories, cultural practices, and community life. A person is Métis because they are descended from Métis ancestors and recognized by Métis relatives and communities, not because they are of mixed ancestry (Hancock, 2017). For further information, please see the Métis Bibliography [PDF],[3] a supplement developed for the Indigenization Project. 

If you’ve met one Indigenous student, you’ve met them all

Not true. Indigenous Peoples’ experiences cannot be homogenized; therefore, each student must be understood in relationship to their cultural identity, diverse spiritual practices, and experiences. For example, not all Indigenous people come from poverty, suffer from violence, or have lived on reserve. Understanding students’ socio-political circumstances is helpful in your role as an ally and service provider as is understanding the effects of colonization, residential schools, and other complex systemic issues facing Indigenous Peoples. However, we should not assume all students come from the same circumstance and that Indigenous people are all harmed.

Indigenous students are “spiritual”

Indigenous students are culturally diverse. Not all Indigenous people have the same spiritual practices. For example, not all Indigenous Peoples take part in smudging ceremonies or pow wows (these are primarily practiced on the prairies), and not all Indigenous people participate in feasts and potlatches (these traditions are practiced by Indigenous Peoples on the Northwest Coast). Spiritual practices are influenced by worldviews, language, and practices. Also, the effects of colonization, such as residential schools, mean some Indigenous students also practice faith-based religions either alongside or separate from their traditional cultural practices. Spirituality must be thought of as diverse as Indigenous Peoples themselves and we can’t make assumptions about what role spirituality plays in an Indigenous person’s life without knowing the individual.