Since 1987, the Aboriginal Cultural and Support Services has been an active resource for Indigenous students at Lakehead University. This year, they underwent a name change that, as ISSC coordinator Yolanda Twance says, links the people to their land and is more culturally and educationally relevant.
Twance works with students and departments to assure the best post-secondary experience for their students. Their new student lounge in the Agora is at the center of it all.
Gakina Nindinawemaaganag Lounge
This is a place the ISSC has created to evolve a student’s success from just graduating into long-term accomplishments. Meaning “all our relations” in Ojibwe, this lounge is the hub for student activities throughout the year; a home away from home where students gather as a community.
Sheila Pelletier-Demerah is the administrative assistant for the lounge. Her face is the first one students see when they walk in. A face student’s pair with the comfort of what the ISSC does.
The lounge offers cultural and support services for the Indigenous community. Offering workstations with computers and a study area, as well as a kitchenette, students can access individual services and group sessions with the Elders-in-Residence Program.
One of these elders, Gene Nowegejick, is a member of the Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek and works closely with ISSC; meeting with students individually, sharing small group teachings and doing openings and closings for various events.
Since 1987, the centre has been active and just recently went through a change to its current name. This name change follows in line with what’s appropriate and is preferable because it links the people to their land.
They added the word centre because students are at the centre of what they do. Yolanda Twance is the ISSC coordinator and, running this position with pride says, “it’s all encompassing of everything we do.”
Programs of progress
Sheryl O’Reilly is the Indigenous counsellor and describes the different areas of support the ISSC gives to Indigenous students on campus; these main areas being academic, individual and cultural.
Many of the different offerings ISSC offers includes a sweat lodge where events are held, the medicine garden that, Twance says, has been around for quite some time. Previously, the garden had individual boxes and is now in the shape of a medicine wheel, making it more culturally relevant for the program.
Other areas include designated smudging areas and workshops elders host.
Academically, ISSC provides tutoring and work with other departments on campus to host academic workshops, as well as transitional support.
O’Reilly handles the transitional and individual support for students. Any questions surrounding academics, housing, assistance with applications for bursaries, sponsorship, and OSAP and counselling, she takes head on.
One of these support services is a book club that works on self-help skills and wellness support. Since January they have met once a week and she also offers a check-in dedicated to coffee and conversation to make sure the students are feeling alright and staying on track.
Working past the COVID hiccup
The ISSC is evolving regularly to stay relevant to student life eand younger students. With COVID-19 as a looming distraction, ISSC hit the ground running. By conducting all their workshops and meetings on Zoom, Sheryl says there was “little disruptions to service.”
“We moved pretty seamlessly to working remotely and the students have responded well and are engaged in those services.”
With daily changes to lives striving for regularity, the ISSC has kept the normalcy at the centre of their programming.
A place for student success is never the end of how a person evolves in their post-secondary education. While the ISSC is the brick-and-mortar centre for students while navigating the classroom, they carry their success into long-term accomplishments past the classroom.
As Twance says, “Everything we do is to work with students to attain their degree and…our biggest success is when our students graduate.”
From the first day through graduation and beyond, the ISSC is making sure the Indigenous community is succeeding and creating a version of success that’s a triumph for the Indigenous community and Thunder Bay.