In May 2012, the Selkirk College community celebrated the unveiling of an Aboriginal Gathering Place at the school’s Castlegar campus. The opening represented a significant milestone in Selkirk’s commitment to developing positive and inclusive educational opportunities for Aboriginal learners, and created opportunities to host major events.
From Vision to Event
One year later, that vision is becoming a reality as Selkirk College prepares to host an inaugural Aboriginal Youth Conference that will see more than 130 participants come together for a celebration of culture and traditions from June 5th to 7th, 2013.
The planning of the event has included collaboration by a number of groups, including Selkirk College staff and Aboriginal stakeholders, as well as youth and educators from three regional school districts. It was all made possible in large part due to a generous contribution from the Columbia Basin Trust Youth Initiative program.
“We’re so excited and honoured to be bringing Aboriginal youth and educators together to take pride in their culture and to celebrate so many wonderful traditions,” says Selkirk College President, Angus Graeme. “Gatherings like the Youth and Educators conference are a fantastic way for the college to serve the Aboriginal community and inspire learning for us all.”
Strengthening Our Relations
The conference will feature a wide variety of activities, speakers, workshops and entertainment, as well as an Elders program and mural and filmmaking projects. Participants will have the option of staying in Selkirk’s Kekuli House residence or camping in tipis.
The title for the conference is “Strengthening our Relations”, which was selected by the youth planning committee. It includes three key objectives: to have Aboriginal students form relationships and learn from each other; to increase awareness about community supports that are available to Aboriginal youth and educators; and to introduce students and educators to Indigenous knowledge on health and the environment, and ways of teaching and learning.
“When I started this work in 2009, Aboriginal students identified that helping them to make connections – with the aboriginal community and culture, with educational funding opportunities and with each other – were the ways that Selkirk could best support student retention and success,” says Selkirk College Director of Student & Enrolment Services, Cathy Mercer.
“These are the areas that our student services staff have focused on and from there the idea for a youth and educators conference emerged.”
Jessica Morin has taken a leadership position in the development of the event through her role as Selkirk’s Aboriginal Cultural Assistant and has been able to experience firsthand the enthusiasm of young people and the academic community.
Since the earliest discussions, the local School Districts have been very supportive of participating in the visioning and planning of this event. There will be participants attending the conference from all across the Kootenays and representation from the First Nations of the Kootenay and Boundary regions including the Sinixt, the Silyx, the Ktunaxa and the Métis Nation.
“There will be four central themes representing the four directions of the Medicine Wheel: North – community; East – health; South – education; and West – environment.”
The conference’s reach has also extended beyond the Kootenays, as groups like the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Colville Confederated Tribes have organized groups to attend, connected organizers with speakers and workshop leaders, and facilitated the participation of Elders.
At the official opening of the Gathering Place, the various speakers who represented Aboriginal governments spoke of the critical need to make post-secondary education more accessible, welcoming, and respectful of Aboriginal learners and their cultures.
“We are so grateful to the First Nations for their support with bringing the youth together for this event and to the Columbia Basin Trust for their contribution.
For more information about the 2013 Strengthening Our Relations – Regional Aboriginal Youth and Educators Conference or to become a sponsor for the event, please contact Jessica Morin at 250.365.1357.