Partnership spurs rise in native Canadian enrolment

September 3, 2004

A venture to involve aboriginal Canadians by taking classes to remote communities and giving them a final say on curriculum and research has led to a dramatic rise in numbers of enrolments.

The ten-year-old University of Northern British Columbia ceded control over the content of its First Nations language and culture courses to tribes, and curbed professors' freedom to publish, by giving First Nations the intellectual property rights to research conducted on their lands or with their collaboration.

"Any knowledge regarding First Nations people has to come from First Nations people. In any courses developed to have First Nations content, our elders have a big say in what is being taught, who teaches it and so on," Bruce Allan, education adviser with the Carrier-Sekani tribe, said.

The policies have paid off, the university says. Aboriginal student enrolment at the main campus in Prince George, at several satellite campuses and for off-campus classes taught on reserves is three times higher than in the province's other universities. UNBC covers a region where aboriginals make up 10 to 50 per cent of the population in many towns.

About 5 per cent of Canadian aboriginals aged 25-29 have a university degree, according to government figures, compared with 25 per cent among the general population in the same age group.

In one partnership, 17 students have obtained first degrees from a Nisga'a nation school authorised to offer the university's programmes. The school has the final say on the content of classes, but the university hires teachers and establishes grading standards and degree requirements.

In another venture, UNBC manages a forest in tandem with the Tlaz'ten nation, the aim being to "integrate traditional knowledge and scientific research".

"UNBC sees itself as an agent, working with First Nations to build their capacity, through education, to achieve a greater degree of self-determination in all areas, including advanced education," president Charles Jago said in University Affairs magazine.

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