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Supporting Indigenous students at a distance during the pandemic

Keiko Kataokaby Keiko KataokaApr 30, 2020
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The sudden shift to remote learning necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic has posed a host of challenges for learners and educators across the country. Shifting in-person courses to online formats, navigating new technology and balancing work and study with obligations at home has forced us to be flexible, creative and resilient.

Marginalized and equity-seeking groups within the Sheridan community, including Indigenous students, may be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To highlight and raise awareness around these specific impacts and ways to address them, Sheridan’s Inclusive Communities team has launched a webinar series. The first installment, “Resilience of Indigenous Learners Weathering the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was co-hosted by Elijah M. Williams, Director of Engagement for Sheridan’s Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support and Amanda Myers, Director of the Indigenous Student Centre at Western University.

Below are some takeaways from Williams and Myers.

Ways in which Indigenous students may be disproportionately impacted:

  • Some Indigenous communities are situated in remote locations, which can mean limited or irregular access to doctors, psychologists and other essential services.
  • Lack of access to high-speed Internet and cell service can impede a student’s ability to complete course work and assessments online, as well as to connect with instructors and peers, apply to government grants and seek other financial assistance.
  • Households with multiple people under one roof poses challenges if physical distancing between family members is necessary.
  • Ceremony and in-person gatherings are culturally significant and often tied to identity. It’s where knowledge-sharing, teachings and community building happens.
  • Centres for Indigenous Learning and Support are safe spaces for students on campus. Face-to-face interactions in those spaces that often lead to staff connecting students to vital supports and services must shift to virtual conversations.

Ways in which Indigenous communities are staying resilient:

  • People are accessing traditional knowledge of medicines such as sage, cedar, pine and wild ginger.
  • Social media is being used to start conversations about and to celebrate culturally significant practices like dressing in regalia. This is being shared with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people online.
  • Youth are looking to knowledge keepers for lessons from history and sharing them with their peers.
  • Young leaders are using virtual platforms to speak openly and honestly about challenges, using storytelling to offer messages of hope.
  • First Nations, Inuit and Metis people are practicing voluntary isolation and sealing off their territories to ensure the virus does not spread to vulnerable people.

Ways to continue supporting Indigenous students at a distance:

  • Use proactive outreach throughout the semester. If a student is fine at an initial check in, they may need supports at a later time.
  • Engage in “live” communication when possible. Keep the personal, 1:1 connection that’s so important when campuses are open.
  • Connect students with a member of the on-campus Indigenous Centre team who may be able to speak to their needs with a greater cultural understanding and awareness (CILS@sheridancollege.ca or askanadvisor@sheridancollege.ca).
  • If needed, encourage students to access the Hope for Wellness Help Line for immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention (by telephone at 1-855-242-3310).

Elijah Williams“My Elders have told me that we are resilient people. I think of how our ancestors were so determined to make a better future for us. We have an obligation to do the same. It may seem scary at times, but we’re building resiliency as we speak.” – Elijah M. Williams

Amanda Myers“Our knowledge-keepers often talk about the meaning of resiliency. Until you come to a situation like this, it is hard to understand it. While we may not be able to gather for ceremonies as we are used to, we can actively reach out to people and remind them of Indigenous teachings.” – Amanda Myers

Written by Keiko Kataoka, Manager, Communications and Public Relations at Sheridan.

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