The University of British Columbia has launched a web portal with an emphasis on video to showcase the growing number of programs and opportunities for Aboriginal students and scholars at UBC.
The UBC Aboriginal Portal— aboriginal.ubc.ca —provides a single online destination to learn about UBC’s Aboriginal student services, academic programs, research community and outreach programs.
Unlike many institutional websites, it uses video to help put a human face on the team that exists to support and mentor Aboriginal students through admissions, graduation and beyond.
“We want to help students and their families get to know the people who are here to support them,” says Linc Kesler, Director of UBC’s First Nations House of Learning and Senior Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs. “We felt that a personal medium like video would help to do that.”
The portal features dozens of videos of key UBC contacts. This ranges from basic information on admissions, scholarships and day care to profiles of UBC’s Indigenous Academic Caucus, an informal association of 26 faculty members who identify as Indigenous and are actively involved in research, teaching and administration, much of it with an Aboriginal focus and substantial community engagement.
The portal opens with a welcome in the Coast Salish dialect of the Musqueam people by Larry Grant, a UBC adjunct professor and Musqueam elder. In another video, Ojibwa student Catherine Pitawanakwat shares her experience in UBC’s Go Global student exchange program. Elsewhere, UBC Zoology Prof. David Close discusses a scientific discovery he made that could help conserve the Pacific lamprey, an important source of food for his community, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
in eastern Oregon.
“These outstanding students and scholars are important role models for young people,” says Kesler, a professor of Oglala Lakota ancestry who also leads UBC’s Aboriginal Strategy, a university-wide initiative to increase recruitment, support and programming for Aboriginal students and researchers at UBC. “We hope their stories will inspire students to consider opportunities and pathways they may not have thought possible.”
Since UBC’s Aboriginal Strategy was launched in 2009, the university has nearly doubled its complement of Aboriginal faculty to 26, making UBC one of the top recruiters of Aboriginal faculty among research universities.
Enrolment is growing too. More than 630 UBC students current self-indentify as Aboriginal. Graduate student enrolment has jumped 16 per cent since 2008. There is record enrolment in the Faculty of Law, home to UBC’s First Nations Legal Studies Program that (along with the Faculty of Education’s Native Indian Teacher Education Program) was launched in 1975 to help address a national shortage in Aboriginal lawyers and educators.
Since 2008, UBC has created 13 courses with significant Indigenous content, bringing the total to 66 across the faculties of Medicine, Law, Business, Arts, Education, Forestry, Graduate Studies and Continuing Studies.
“UBC is emerging as a leading destination for Aboriginal students and scholars, so we have more stories to share,” says Kesler, who encourages students to subscribe the portal’s RSS feed to receive regular updates. “The UBC Aboriginal Strategy has created a real jump in interest from prospective students and faculty, First Nations bands, high schools and other universities.”
While the idea of attending a large research-intensive university may be intimidating to some students, Kesler says those qualities produce a unique combination of opportunities for students.
“Our size allows us to offer more programs with an Aboriginal focus than any university in Canada,” he says. “It means students can work beside top Aboriginal scholars and research important topics at much deeper levels of investigation—opportunities they might not get at smaller institutions.”
Maija Tailfeathers, a UBC student who produced videos for the site, says the process was inspiring. “It was great to meet so many researchers working in areas that are important to Aboriginal communities. The site really shows some of the amazing things people are doing here.”
Tailfeathers, whose heritage includes Blackfoot and Sami, an indigenous people from Scandinavia and Russia, says she is happy to contribute to something that will improve student life.
“When I think back to my first years here, this portal would have been really helpful,” says Tailfeathers, sitting in the First Nations Longhouse, a home away from home for many Aboriginal students at UBC. “It shows you who to contact for things and helps you get to know them.
It was a really fun project to work on.”
Visit the UBC Aboriginal Portal at: aboriginal.ubc.ca