New mentorship program helping Indigenous students through post-secondary

An Indigenous mentorship program is coming to Red River College Polytechnic after Canada Life gave the school a $500,000 donation. Edward Djan has more.

As the number of Indigenous students enrolled in post-secondary grows, a new mentorship program is making sure they don’t have to go through the journey of higher-education alone.

Canada Life announcing Thursday that they will be giving $500,000 to Red River College Polytechnic for the school to launch The Circle of Friends Indigenous Student Mentorship Program.

The program pairs Indigenous students with industry professionals, beginning with 125 mentors with plans to add more.

Fred Meier President and CEO of RRC Polytech says the program moves the school one step closer to meeting its truth and reconciliation goals.

“It’s imperative for us to take action and active steps to support these students. Not only does this help us address historic barriers, it provides a path for our learners to meet their goals,” said Meier.

Sharon Rose Bear is a graduate of the school’s Community Development Program and plans to return in the fall to study Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship.

Sharon Rose Bear. (Photo Credit: Edward Djan, CityNews)

She says while she was fortunate enough to be able to navigate through post-secondary, she says it can be a scary process for some Indigenous students.

“If I had that opportunity to talk to me about what I was going to experience in my first year, I would have been more prepared for other obstacles that did come naturally when you are a student,” said Bear.

“I do know personally some students that do struggle with having the courage to start talking and finding the right resources within the college and being prepared once you are graduated to applying for jobs, because that is very intimidating.”

In addition to adjusting to the pressures that come with post-secondary, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick says Indigenous students face several barriers, in which other students don’t face.

“The students they experience culture shock. The lack of housing, funding, racism from students and faculty, disconnection from their culture and families,” said Grand Chief Merrick.

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham says the new mentorship program will have a positive impact beyond the RRC Polytech community.

“Today’s announcement from Canada Life will have a significant impact on the lives of Indigenous students in our community. But not just Indigenous students. It will have a significant impact on the non-Indigenous community of Winnipeg as well,” said Gillingham.

As Bear prepares to head back to school, she is set not only to be a mentee but also a mentor, using her previous experiences to lend a helping hand.

“I would like to just help with the first initial shock of adjustment into college life because you do a full course load and that’s usually about six or seven courses. And I would like to be able to help.”

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