Drawing From Her Cultural Values -- Miigam’agan Begins Her Work as Elder-in-Residence
Published: Thursday, Sep 20, 2012
Miigam’agan has begun the term with a clear focus on her goal.
As St. Thomas University’s first Elder-in-Residence, Miigam’agan will provide support to students from First Nations and be an important link between the University and First Nations communities in New Brunswick.
“In many cases, these students are moving out of their communities to continue their education. My role is to offer support, drawing from our cultural values and working to create a sense of community for First Nations students,” she said.
“I’m honoured to be part of the team in Aboriginal Education Initiatives at St. Thomas University -- the new Native Student Lounge in Sir James Dunn Hall is nice and comfortable.”
Miigam’agan will report to the Vice-President (Academic and Research) and work with the Director of Student Services and Residence Life and the Director of Aboriginal Education Services to provide direction, guidance and support to First Nations students and assist them with participation.
“I am looking forward to working with the students and being part of the St. Thomas community.”
She will also act as a source of advice to the President, senior administration and faculty and staff on the development of services and subjects such as First Nations cultural practices, traditions and protocol.
The Elder will be present on campus on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 2:00 pm. Her office is located next to the new dedicated gathering space and lounge for First Nations students on the second floor of Sir James Dunn Hall.
Originally from Esgenoôpetitj, New Brunswick, Miigam’agan’s life work has been in cultural revival and community development. She is a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation and Wabanaki Confederacy and is a practitioner of Wabanaki Spirituality and teacher of Mi’kmaq Grandmother Longhouse traditions. She holds an associate degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Maine and has extensive education and work experience in substance and behaviour counseling, community wellness planning, group facilitating and community development.
The Elder-in-Residence program is part of the university’s Aboriginal Education Initiatives, which is meant to increase the recruitment and retention rate of First Nations students by implementing student services specifically tailored to meet the needs of First Nations students.
The impetus for this type of Elder-in-Residence program came to light after a team from St. Thomas University visited Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, British Columbia. That university has a large population of Aboriginal students and has been successfully providing culturally appropriate student services for over 20 years.
“The most important of these services, according to them, was bringing Elders to their campus,” explained Chris George, Director of Aboriginal Education Initiatives.
“The Elders brought some of the comforts of home to their campus. They provided simple things from baked bread and soup to ceremonial practices. Most importantly, they brought a calming presence to an environment that can be stressful for students.”
George says STU’s Elder-in-Residence program will assist First Nations students in finding success in their educational paths. It will also bring awareness of Wabanaki knowledge and traditions to the greater St. Thomas University community. “We relocated the Native Students Lounge to provide us with a larger space and we connected the offices for myself and the Elder to the new lounge.”
“Our students will have daily contact with the Elder and other student services. We included a fridge and stove which gives us an opportunity to provide home cooked soup and other traditional foods for our students. As well, we will be able to use the kitchenette to host pot luck socials when we can share our foods, culture, ceremony and traditions.”
George hopes to have more academic and skills workshops on time management, stress therapy skills and note taking -- tools that have proven to be of great assistance for students.
St. Thomas has also formed an Advisory Council for Aboriginal Student Services, which includes three representatives from Maliseet First Nations and three representatives of Mi’kmaq First Nations, as well as representatives of First Nations faculty and students at STU.
The position and the renovations have been made possible by financial support provided by the Harrison McCain Foundation.