Indigenous post-secondary students


In January of 2011, Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Status Registration was enacted, which allows “grandchildren of women who lost Indian Status as a result of marrying non-Indian men” to apply for their status (Service Canada 2011). In 1985, a similar change happened to the same piece of legislation, the Indian Act, called Bill C-31, an Act to Amend the Indian Act (Native Women’s Association of Canada NWAC 2011). In an effort to reduce the gender discrimination within the Indian Act, section 12(1) of the Indian Act, which stated that an Indigenous woman who married a non-Indigenous man could no longer retain her status, was removed (NWAC 2011). Not so coincidentally, up until the year 1991, there was also an increase in Indigenous peoples with higher educational credentials. However, White and Beavon suggest that this increase in higher education credentials among this population group may not be because more Indigenous people are going to university; rather, the increase may be attributed to more Indigenous peoples declaring their status because of such legislative changes (2009:8). With the most recent changes to Bill C-3, an increase in Indigenous peoples with higher credentials in subsequent years may then also be attributed to the January 2011 legislative changes. These policy changes create an illusion of more Indigenous students in university, but the reality is that there is more people declaring their status after university.

These policy changes that create the illusion that more Indigenous students are benefitting from post-secondary are detrimental to Indigenous students who are currently in university. Hull notes that Aboriginal groups experience difficulties with regards to success and achievement throughout their educational careers, but notes most difficulty lies in completing secondary school and university (2004:157). Additionally, Clement highlights that the gap between Registered Indians, as defined by the Indian Act, and other Canadians with university degree completions nearly doubled from -6.5% in 1981 to -13.2% in 2006 (2009:96). This paper will address the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in terms of post-secondary completion rates by answering the following question: Why are Indigenous students less likely to complete a post-secondary education within the university stream? Within this paper, the term post-secondary refers to universities within Canada. However, there is limited research addressing university completion among this group, as much of the research that exists focuses on primary and secondary outcomes. Further, the term “Indigenous student” is used in a broad manner to include First Nations students, Inuit students, and Métis students. There are limits to using this term with inclusivity. For instance, much of the research obtained for the purposes of this paper addresses specific Indigenous groups. The reason for using the term “Indigenous” in its inclusivity is to highlight the fact that all Indigenous groups lag behind the non-Indigenous population in terms of post-secondary completion (White and Beavon 2009:6). To answer the question, a sociological perspective will be undertaken employing a Marxist theory to explain why Indigenous students lag in post-secondary completion, and using Kingsley Davis and Wilber E. Moore’s social stratification theory to help explain why, as a society, this issue needs to be addressed to move forward in a positive direction.

In the Marxist theory of social relations, there exist three interdependent concepts: alienation, exploitation, and false consciousness. A false consciousness is defined as “having an incorrect idea about the social world” (Zavitz-Gocan 2011). These ideas can be incorrect in one of two ways: either that the idea is so false that it does not represent reality or that the idea about the social world is accurate but deviates from behaviour (Zavitz-Gocan 2011). Universities create a false consciousness among students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, through alienation. This alienation is created through the commodification of knowledge. Blyth describes the university experience as “often overcrowded academic spaces…offering knowledge as a commodity for students who, made docile and passive, [are] expected to consume it” (2008:67). For Marx, a commodity is a source of alienation through commodity fetishism (Ritzer 2011:58). Commodity fetishism is the concept that commodities acquire an exchange value, and can be bought or sold (Ritzer 2011:58). According to Marx, commodities are defined as “products of labour intended primarily for exchange” (Ritzer 2011:57). The commodification of knowledge occurs when professors reproduce this knowledge in the lecture room in exchange for a salary and tenure. Upon graduation, students search for jobs that their undergraduate training and knowledge could be exchanged for an income. This commodification of knowledge contributes to further alienation of the Indigenous student from mainstream university education. Beverley describes university education as “divorced from the world in which [students] will have to work” (2000:132). Indigenous students may feel disconnected from the university experience, especially from the various theories, concepts, etc. that a professor may teach them, and from the content of the textbooks they are told to purchase because they do not correspond to their own realities both as an Indigenous person and as a student.

As stated earlier, a false consciousness is an incorrect idea about the social world, and this could be created by one of two ways. One of these ways is that the idea about the social world is an accurate one but deviates from behaviour, which may create a class in itself (Zavitz-Gocan 2011). A class in itself is a class without consciousness and is defined as “a group with similar interests [with] its potential for conflict” (Zavitz-Gocan 2011; Ritzer 2011:62). The potential for conflict is created by a university’s rigid and competitive degree requirements to enter into certain programs. Beverley describes the university environment as having a “‘me-first’ attitude” (2000:133). Even though a university may have a specific place for Indigenous students to gather, universities contribute to the problem though the ghettoization of First Nations studies. This is a problem because many Indigenous issues are presented in lectures, but these same issues are not adequately discussed in lower levels of education. For example, resources for teaching history that teach dominant colonial ideologies and that do not adequately portray Indigenous experiences may have been used in primary school classrooms (Iseke-Barnes 2005). As an Indigenous student in a predominantly non-Indigenous high-school history class, I was taught that residential schools were created to “educate” Aboriginal children. When I questioned the teacher’s lesson, I was immediately sent out of the classroom. In a similar fashion, university lectures are very limiting in their discussions. When professors bring up issues of poverty and substance abuse among Indigenous groups, professors may assume that students are prepared for university and many non-Indigenous students do not question why or how Indigenous groups face these realities. Either out of fear of saying the wrong thing or for simply having no interest in Indigenous issues, many students then accept this Indigenous identity as is it presented to them and do not question why or how this group faces these harsh realities (Beverley 2000). Thus, universities have not helped the problem; they simply divided the class of students and eliminated potential conflict by ghettoizing Indigenous-themed courses. Indigenous students may be attuned to the potential conflict that exists, and decide for themselves that education is of no use for them. Indigenous students may develop this attitude toward university education because course content may alienate them from their own experiences.

In addition to this false consciousness and alienation, exploitation occurs. Exploitation occurs when there exists a differential in power relations. Beverley further describes the undergraduate student experience as “a list of largely unwritten expectations” (2000:127). These expectations are ones that each student must abide by in order to be successful: be on time, always present, and learn what the professor presents (Beverley 2000:127). Not only must students learn what their professor decides to teach them by choosing their textbooks and choosing which topics to lecture on, both student groups must also abide by what the university dictates. For example, my program has a rigid module where many of my classes have not adequately discussed Indigenous issues in a historical, cultural, or social context, even though Indigenous issues are constantly the subject of lectures. Lee Maracle, an Indigenous scholar, describes this university experience as constant re-victimization for the Indigenous student (2012). Indigenous students may feel isolated from mainstream university education causing them to further question, both from the perspective of an Indigenous person and a student, what good is a university education.

By way of its own environment and through the commodification of knowledge, universities create a false consciousness among its students via alienation and exploitation. This alienation is created through the commodification of knowledge. Professors are hired for their knowledgeable background, and reproduce this knowledge in the lecture room in exchange for a salary and tenure. Upon graduation, students search for jobs so that their knowledge can be exchanged for an income. Alienation is intensified through the creation of a student class in itself through the inherent conflict of the university’s rigid and competitive degree requirements. As false consciousness is interdependent on alienation and exploitation, students are also exploited through the differential in power relations where the university and professor dictate what the students will learn. Indigenous students may be aware of the exploitation and the alienation by the constant re-victimization of their historical, cultural, and social experiences, thereby potentially causing some Indigenous students to question the purpose of a university education.

In an increasingly globalized society, the need for a university education has become more important now than ever. However, some may argue that university is not for everyone. So, why should we care that Indigenous students lag behind non-Indigenous students in completion rates? Iseke-Barnes states that continuing to ignore Indigenous issues is both damaging and demeaning to non-Indigenous and Indigenous student populations (2005:162). Davis and Moore’s social stratification theory highlights that there are two determinants to potential ranks: functional importance and scarcity of personnel (1944:243). Scarcity of personnel is affected by how talent to fill the position is acquired (Davis and Moore 1944:244). Talent can be acquired innately or through training, like university. In one study, researchers found that Indigenous students with higher credentials have relatively higher earnings in comparison to their non-Indigenous counterparts including other visible minorities (Walters, White and Maxim 2004:296). They suggested that even though Indigenous people with higher credentials are uncommon, there is a demand for them (Walters et al. 2004:296). Therefore, there is a clear need for Indigenous peoples with higher credentials.

Unfortunately, in addition to the inherent conflict within university environments as well as the additional alienation and exploitation as described above, Indigenous students may not see the benefit of acquiring these higher credentials that require long, costly training. Spence, White and Maxim argue that the economic status of a First Nation community may contribute to an Indigenous students’ educational outcome (2007:150). These contributing factors can be placed on a spectrum with no jobs existing at one end, many low-end jobs in the middle, and a mix of jobs (low, middle, high-end) existing at the opposite end. If there is a mixture of jobs, school becomes relevant for the Indigenous student, but if there are no jobs, the Indigenous student may fail to see the benefit of acquiring such credentials (Spence et al. 2007:150). With increased globalization and multicultural identities, Indigenous students may feel further displaced by the increased competition created by external factors that affect social solidarity or social stratification. Davis and Moore state that external factors that affect the stratified systems are increased cultural heritage and cultural diffusion (1944:249). However, in a highly globalized society, the need for technical training and knowledge is prioritized, and sacred or religious needs are withdrawn. Davis and Moore state that, “When the preoccupation with the sacred is withdrawn…a great development, and rise in status, of economic and technological position seemingly takes place” (1944:248). For Indigenous students, this may be interpreted as struggle with trying to prioritize their educational needs over their cultural needs, contributing to further displacement from university education.

This paper addressed the issue of the gap between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students’ completion rates, in part, by employing a Marxist theory to explain why this gap exists and also used the social stratification theory to explain why this gap needs to be addressed. In addition to this question, Iseke-Barnes presents the question of who benefits from this type of education where the dominant ideology is continuously expressed and the Indigenous identity is incessantly re-victimized (2005). From the perspective of a student, nobody benefits especially if students are taught to passively consume knowledge as fact and in exchange as a commodity. Focusing on themes of decolonizing and indigenizing texts and classroom structure may be celebratory and disparaging for Indigenous students, but also a difficult and emotional task (Beverley 2000; Blyth 2008). However, Indigenous knowledge may begin to be included in the discussion of sociological issues. For example, Indigenous elders can be included as speakers of Indigenous knowledge within the classroom when discussing Indigenous issues, and not just in Indigenous-themed courses. Professors may also begin to include positive images of the Indigenous identity. Presently, there exist many Indigenous scholars who have published many articles on various sociological issues. An attempt to actively include such articles may deconstruct the Indigenous identity as one that is constantly victimized. Universities do not have to sacrifice non-Indigenous student experiences in an attempt to provide a non-alienating, non-exploitative university experience for Indigenous students, and Indigenous students do not have to sacrifice their culture at the expense of their own education. In the end, both structural and institutional changes can be made beginning today. The issue is complex but does not need to be an “Indigenous issue” any longer.

Mental Health and Substance Use

Today after reading an article titled University Faces Mental Health Crisis.

I was more inclined to write this article especially after having met with an out-patient psychiatric nurse this week. I saw her because of a referral I received…last year (summer 2011). I completely forgot about the referral, and besides, by the time I went to see her, I believe that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist.

I had developed some coping skills, and new techniques to help me with my anxiety or stress. I can give thanks for the student development services (specifically, to a counselor who finished her placement with me and the new one I am now seeing). I also had to give myself some credit because this year was the year that I finally decided,

I have to be honest with myself and with who ever I decided to receive help from because if I wasn’t honest…I wouldn’t get the help I actually needed

I was honest, and I also decided that I would cut back on drinking and stop doing drugs. I started noticing a pattern–less drinking and no drugs meant less anxiety attacks, less nightmares, less depression-bouts, less interrupted sleeps. It’s not that everything all of a suddenly magically stopped all together, but I noticed I was significantly feeling better. I didn’t and sometimes don’t still feel perfect. I still have my insecurities. I still have my fears. I have my flashbacks…still. I still look over my shoulder when I am walking alone. Double check, if not triple check that my door is double locked before bed. Sure, some people may call me paranoid, but I know that’s my coping method. Albeit, not a good one, but it works.

I think that is the most frustrating part about trying to get care for mental health: everything looks okay by the time the referral comes, but really…the person may have just developed new coping methods.

My new coping methods aren’t the best but they certainly are better than doing drugs and drinking every day. Even when I tried to get help when I was still using, mental health care professionals would say to me “Why not try to quit drinking and quit doing drugs and then we can make an appointment, okay?” I just want to yell out, “Can’t you see, I am doing drugs and drinking because of these mental health problems!”

I was using, and it was my coping method.

The thing with this article that I read today was that it focused on lack of resources to meet the high demand for students at the University. The article mentioned in only one instance “substance abuse.” Even the words together don’t sound nice.

You don’t have to be abusing substances in order for them to be affecting your mental health. In fact, you don’t even have to be a repeated user in order for substances to affect your mental health. In fact, you can even die on the first time you use substances. (Yes alcohol is a substance, and yes you can die from drinking too much in one sitting and not just over time)

I think the issue with University culture and mental health issues is that the two fail to acknowledge that substance use or substance abuse or substance experimentation may either further aggravate mental health issues, create new mental health issues, allow old mental health issues to resurface and even hide mental health issues–in my case, it did all that. But if I were to be honest with you, I did use a lot and I used every day. I wasn’t in school then though. I don’t think anyone who did what I used to do could ever complete first year or any year of university, and if they are… well I guess that is their coping method.

Individuals go away to school, and sometimes they are trying certain aspects of life for the first time. Everything from living on their own for the first time, having sex for the first time, being single for the first time, maybe even being drunk or high for the first time. When it comes to university, there are three aspects to it:

  1. academics
  2. social
  3. personal

Academics deals with marks and going to class and even passing or failing. Social deals with the partying, relationships (friendship or more), etc. Personal deals with finding yourself or well, losing yourself (freshman 15 anyone?).

In the article above, it states that there needs to be more resources. Yes, I completely agree. But what also needs to be is more awareness and education, not just on mental health but perhaps things that might hid, might exacerbate, or might even create mental health issues. Yes, I am kind of biased when it comes to speaking about mental health and substance use/abuse, but I’ve been there. Nobody ever told me, drinking might be the cause or doing drugs might be making it worse, because drinking and doing drugs was my coping method.

I’d like to make a further point or connection. Earlier today, an LFpress article was posted titled Growing number of schoolgirls using painkillers.

The interesting thing about this article is highlighted a statement by an officer, and the officer statement reads:

“The schools aren’t doing enough to educate parents on the subject…Their kids are taking the pills right out of their medicine cabinets, out of their purses. They’re either using them, selling them, or in many cases both.”

And here is another article that highlights the issue of young people finding drugs in their parents’ drug cabinets. Dated 2007: Student use of painkillers on the rise.

How many years later and kids getting drugs out of their parents drug cabinets is still a problem? That’s four years.

In four years, I moved to London, earned a college degree, and was accepted into a university and even completed first year university.

I am not blaming parents for substance abuse or substance use problems, or for their own child’s mental health issues, what I am making more apparent is the fact that sometimes in the University culture and the University experience is that some young people may want to experiment with substance use (and like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be substance abuse; it can be even first time use) which can sometimes create, hide, or exacerbate mental health issues. Yes, as noted earlier, alcohol is considered a substance. Yes, under aged drinking happens on campus. And not that I have witnessed, but I smelt it, drug use happens also.

Parents should also be made aware or educated on how substance use can affect mental health issues. I know that universities give tours during summer months to groups of parents and their child(ren). I believe universities should also give a quick workshop on substance use and mental health issues, and how sometimes the two go together, and tell the parents straight up,

Just because you think your child is an angel and you believe that they won’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t mean that they won’t. So here is some information to make you as a parent more aware and more able to help your child cope.

And yes parents, your child isn’t perfect and just because he/she says he/she is, doesn’t mean they won’t put themselves in situations where substance use occurs and he/she just wants to try it for the “first” and “only” time.

Now, I am not even going to say that one should stay away from substances completely, but what I am saying and what I do believe that more awareness needs to brought out to Universities about the issues with partying and drinking and how it can affect your mental health, and not just your physical health.

Ever hear that one saying, “These are for the nights I can’t remember with the people I won’t forget.” (Or however that over used quote goes…).

Yes parents and universities, it is referring to black out drunk. But I don’t think its cute or funny to use that quote with pictures of an individual holding a 26er of vodka. University experiences should be made to be memorable, and not just by pictures or recall through friends telling you stories the day after. Not. Cute. But that’s just my opinion.

Dear Life

Dear Life,

Why is it whenever I meet someone and they ask if I am Native, they flood me with a slew of questions that I sometimes have no idea what the answer is? Yes, my people may have survived off the land. No, I don’t know how to live off the land nor can I show you how to live off the land. Yes, I can fish. No, I don’t fish whenever, where ever… just on my reserve, usually in the summer time and in the winter when the ice is thick enough. Yes, I used a bow and arrow before. No, I don’t own one (and it is called a compound bow not a “bow and arrow”). Yes, we use guns when we hunt. No, I don’t hunt all the time, nor do I own a gun, and I definitely can’t show you how to use one.

Why are people so fascinated in asking the question “Are you Native?” How would they like it if I asked, “Are you white?” And continued with: Really, what kind of “white” are you?

Or are those questions not “politically correct”?

It seems that because I am Native I should be majoring in First Nations studies. (There is nothing wrong in a First Nations student studying First Nations but stop the assumptions already.) Whenever someone asks me if I am in university, I say yes. They then ask me if I am doing the “First Nations Studies.” I guess it would make sense if I did. Yet, nobody asks a “black” person, are you majoring in African American Studies? Or a “white” person, are you majoring in Italian or Greek? Wait, do those majors even exist?

First Nations studies is without a doubt an interesting subject, but just because I am a “Native” does not mean I am a “First Nations studies” major. Although, I am debating on whether or not I should be. 😉

Thank you

Little Miss Kwe

Education? Really…

I am currently reading and doing some necessary catching up in some of my classes right now before the next semester starts. The last chapter I was required to read from one of my texts consists of a journal article entitled “Teaching Challenges in Higher Education” by Anton L. Allahar (this article led to the writing of this blog). Nevertheless, my catching up right now: not the most ideal position because I would much rather be relaxing. However, this past year has proven to be a very hard walk uphill for me. Not that I deserve a break, but I worked very hard.

This year I graduated from a law clerk program; co op endorsed. I chose to go to university because of the level of success I had in college. The two are completely different. In class size, class content, and expectations from you as a student.

First year at the university is not very ideal for anyone. There are large classrooms, possibly packed to the max. Sometimes classes use what is called a “clicker.” So as the number of students in a class goes up, I believe that the quality of classroom interaction has gone down. I think classroom interaction is essential to quality education. It creates debate, discussion, and allows other individuals to see what others can possibly be thinking or how others are even interpreting the data. I guess today the debate and discussion occurs online in message boards and interactive live chat rooms during lecture times.

I am also noticing that more and more people are choosing a higher education not just at an undergrad level but at a graduate/post graduate/PhD level. I am meeting more and more people who are interested in obtaining their masters or are currently in their masters level of education. This makes me wonder “What will be the value of my degree by the time I graduate?” Should I have even applied to this program and ensued in four years of university education, to only by the end of it realize that my undergraduate studies are worth next to nothing unless I earn a “masters”? Sometimes I debate on a daily basis with myself, was I wrong or right to not go into the work force?

Even with thinking about the work force, the quality of jobs out there for my generation has gone down. There are more and more contract jobs (what good is a job to only stress about if you might have it or not when your contract period ends) and only people being hired for certain time periods for certain tasks (not being hired long term, I think, is a growing trend). More businesses are only hiring people who are experts at one thing–just look at law firms today. In the past, lawyers could practically defend anyone or represent various cases in court. Now, you have to contact the right lawyer for the right situation. Whatever happened to being “general?” Is “general” too boring? Is “general,” not the right fit for society today? This trend of specialities and “experts” can be seen even in the most simplest settings: Wal-mart. If you go in any Wal-Mart today, and you need help finding something or have a question about something, you best hope that you get an employee that is in their appropriate section. If you just ask an employee passing by, the only answer you will get is “I’m sorry this isn’t my section, but I will page someone to come help you.” You may be left waiting forever for that person to come, and left wondering “how does the person coming know which person needs help in the section I am in now when there are several other people beside me?” More likely than not, your page goes unanswered.

The heavy reliance on people with specific knowledge is where our society is left divided. Education creates this difference. For some, quality education is only available to those who can afford it and only those who qualify (re: scholarships, grants). If education was made equal and available to everyone, what would be the outcome on that? If the level of education that is required by more and more jobs, continues to rise, will we all become scholars or experts? If not, then why are we even bothering with education at all?

What good is education when the it continues to divide society?