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Worries expressed over COVID's impact on Indigenous college students

Mountain View Moccasin House Friendship Centre key: Indigenous services coordinator
MVT Olds College front building
The Mountain View Moccasin House Friendship Centre had temporary accommodations at Olds College during the last academic year. File photo/MVP Staff

OLDS — Olds College was making great strides in making Indigenous students feel more at home, a campus official says.

Then the COVID-19 lockdown occurred.

Now that the college is welcoming students back again, Indigenous services coordinator Brent Collins wonders what to expect.

“Since the bottom fell out back in March, we’ve been hoping and looking for September to come back around. We know that it’s not going to be the same – if it’s ever going to be the same,” Collins said prior to the start of the fall term last week.

One of the highlights for Indigenous students was the effort to set up the Mountain View Moccasin House Friendship Centre, he said.

While looking for a permanent home, organizers of that entity were provided with space in the library to share cultural traditions.

That was key to making Indigenous students feel more welcome, he said.

“One of the struggles that so many of our Indigenous students have had (is) the majority obviously are travelling great distances: northern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, northern Alberta,” he said.

“For a lot of these students it can be the first time that they’ve ever been off their nation."

Olds is an hour and-a-half drive away from the nearest First Nation, he said.

That space in the library provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to do familiar things like make their own dreamcatchers, do beading, or make traditional clothing.

It was also an opportunity for Indigenous people to share their traditions with non-Indigenous people with the goal of building of commonality and understanding.

“It was making a difference and we were starting to get really good turnout and then all of a sudden it all came to a screaming halt,” he said.

He’s hopeful that work can continue.

“It was big, really, really big for the college in connection with not just Indigenous students -- with the community -- because we’re really wanting to be able to be that conduit, to be able to sort of remove some of the stigma, the stereotypes, the misinformation, the – well, so much of what’s in the news,” he said.

Collins wonders how many students – including Indigenous ones – will be on campus this fall, as fears of COVID persist.

“I mean, all across the country in the news they’re talking about parents and folks that are concerned about going back to school and all of the challenges that are connected to that,” he said.

“What that will be with respect to those students who had planned to be in the 2020-21 academic year on campus? That may have changed.

“And we won’t know yet. We won’t know until after students start to arrive on the 8th of September – after the Labour Day weekend.”