Lethbridge College’s Indigenous Services department has combined new technology with traditional teachings to provide supports to students. Twice a week, the college’s students can meet online with the college’s Elders and Grandparents over Zoom for fireside chats as part of the Cultural Support program.
Each Monday, the noon-hour session begins with a prayer and a virtual smudging, while another session on Thursday evenings offers traditional cultural teachings and an opportunity for students to talk with the Elders and Grandparents. Traditional cultural connections are an important mental health initiative at Lethbridge College, and the college and Elders were eager to continue the sessions, even in an online environment.
“Our Elders have been very receptive and have been ready and willing to adapt to the change,” says Lowell Yellowhorn, Indigenous Student Support coordinator. “Our culture has had to adapt, because a lot of our cultural traditions involve ceremonial obligations that are in-person and face-to-face. With these sessions, the spirit and intent are there, that's what it comes down to. Our Elders say it's about the prayer and helping people, a genuine approach to wanting to help.”
The fireside chats are one part of Indigenous Services’ approach to meeting students in the online world. The popular RBC Success Series, which introduces a variety of Lethbridge College resources, moved entirely online for the fall semester with nearly 40 students taking part in the six sessions. The sessions continue weekly in the second semester and introduce students to services ranging from Lethbridge College Students’ Association events, to student awards and financial aid, to academic and career supports.
The college is also hosting three virtual RBC Indigenous Mentorship Nights. These roundtable sessions on Feb. 10, March 16 and April 14 will give students the opportunity to meet with Lethbridge College Indigenous alumni to engage in dialogue about the challenges and opportunities encountered on their individual journeys of attaining a post-secondary education and what supports are in place to help the students be successful.
“Lethbridge College is committed to cultivating a supportive campus community that provides holistic services for our Indigenous students,” says Shanda Webber, Indigenous Services Manager. “As leaders in higher education, our goal is to foster the growth and development of our students by creating an enriched campus environment, and in today’s virtual environment, that supports our students’ intellectual, emotional, social, physical, creative and spiritual potentials.”
Finding a way to provide all of its services online was a priority for Indigenous Services, whose team members recognize the need for connection and mental health support is greater than ever.
“For a lot of our students, the college was their social life, their escape was going to the Niitsitapi Gathering Place and being on-campus,” says Yellowhorn. “Now some of them have no other option or distraction to help them cope with the social isolation of the pandemic. So, we want to provide our students with an opportunity to connect with their peers and provide the sense of belonging that they are yearning for.”
Students can learn more about upcoming sessions, Indigenous Services and its Circle of Services at lethbridgecollege.ca/indigenous.