Indigenous Access McGill searches for funding

Program supports First Nations and Inuit students at McGill

Correction appended February 10, 2014

In its ongoing search for permanent funding, Indigenous Access McGill (IAM) continues to provide mentoring and tutoring services to First Nations and Inuit Students in Social Work and other programs. Despite its financial uncertainty, the program has garnered support from other Indigenous student groups and support services at McGill over the years.

Since IAM started up in 2007, Arts Senator Claire Stewart-Kanigan told The Daily in an interview on January 16, the program has “seen an increase in Indigenous graduates and students coming into the School of Social Work. […] So, Indigenous Access McGill has been a concrete help for Indigenous students in making McGill seem like a more inviting environment [for them], and also [in] providing skills and support to help [Indigenous] students succeed when they get here.”

In its seven years of existence, IAM has kept in contact with, and has been supported by, the First Peoples’ House and other Indigenous student organizations throughout campus.

IAM Project Coordinator Courtney Montour told The Daily in an email that IAM has also been instrumental in developing the Aboriginal field studies course (IDFC 500) in 2013, which was offered to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in Social Work, Medicine, Anthropology, and Law. The course was initially run in 2010 as a slot course and then formally recognized by McGill in 2011 as IDFC 380.

“The idea for an Aboriginal field studies course grew out of IAM. We did the initial research and developed the framework,” Montour said, adding that she visited the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology to gather ideas. “We took what we learned through this experience and tailored it to the needs of the McGill and Kahnawake communities.”

IAM was born out of a research study – conducted from 2005 to 2008 by the Director of the School of Social Work Wendy Thomson, and funded by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport du Québec – on current and ongoing educational and professional needs in the Kahnawake and Kanehsatà:ke communities, and the region of Nunavik.

The study found that “Indigenous students are underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate programs,” Montour said, adding that the study also found “participants had myriad concerns around their ability to succeed in a mainstream social work program. It was clear that a range of support systems needed to be put in place.”

In 2007, IAM was founded by the Director of the School of Social Work Wendy Thomson, Social Work professor Nicole Ives, past IAM Coordinator Oonagh Aitken, and Social Work Academic Associate Michael Loft, in order to speak to these issues within the study’s findings.

Since its inauguration, IAM’s funding has come through grants –one from Health Canada between 2007 and 2010, and one from the Counselling Foundation of Canada between 2010 and 2013. However, since September 2013, Montour stated in an email to The Daily that IAM “[has been] without any concrete funding” and that “the Dean of the Faculty of Arts is currently providing IAM with some bridge funding.”

Following the January 22 McGill Senate meeting, Stewart-Kanigan asked Dean Christopher Manfredi whether the Faculty of Arts would continue to fund IAM until permanent funding is found for the program.

“I asked, ‘Will bridge funding continue if additional funding or university funding isn’t found?’ And he said, ‘Yes it would. For next year if external funding isn’t found then they will continue to receive funding from the Faculty of Arts. The staff positions won’t disappear.’”

When asked about the amount of money that is required to run IAM, Montour refused to comment. “It is minimal, and right now with that bridge funding, the three of us at the university [are] capable of using our manpower to do any support service. But if anything costs money out of the physical realm of our ability, we can’t do that right now.”

Once IAM receives sustainable funding, Mary Shem, a McGill Social Work student and a student supported through IAM, told The Daily that, in addition to maintaining the current Aboriginal Field Studies Course that IAM was instrumental in creating, she would like to see IAM push for and offer more courses related to Indigenous Studies.

“I know there are other programs in Indigenous Social Work that they could offer. The First Nations program is just starting out at McGill, so I know they could offer a lot more [in terms of courses].”

Stewart-Kanigan added on January 16 that with permanent funding, IAM could “get a bit more outreach and joint events with other organizations. I think that could help with their visibility because I think there’s space for them […] within the Faculty of Arts.”

“But things are slowly moving,” Loft said to The Daily. “And I think they’re moving in a Native way. […] We want to make a better day for our youth for the future, and that’s what it’s about.”

In an earlier version of this article, The Daily incorrectly named Mary Shen as a member of IAM; in fact, Mary Shem is a student supported through IAM. In addition, The Daily misstated the titles of Nicole Ives and Michael Loft as an assistant professor and professional associate, respectively; in fact, their titles are professor and academic associate. In addition, The Daily incorrectly referred to the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology as the University of British Columbia. Lastly, The Daily stated that Claire Stewart-Kanigan spoke with Christopher Manfredi at AUS Council; in fact, they spoke at the January 22 Senate meeting. The Daily regrets the errors.