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Committed to Aboriginal students

New President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs

special feature: Aboriginal Peoples

Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.


By Meaghan Whelan

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for universities to take action and play a leadership role in reconciliation.

Memorial University has taken up that call and is further strengthening its commitment to Aboriginal students through the creation of the President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.

Pan-university representation

This internal committee will provide advice and support related to academic programming, student support services and public engagement. It includes representatives from the Labrador Institute, Grenfell Campus, Marine Institute and the St. John’s campus.

From left are Donna Ball, Sonja Knutson, Paul Banahene Adjei, Kelly Anne Butler, Lynn Kendall, Scott Neilsen, Gerald Anderson, Carolyn Sturge Sparkes and Catharyn Andersen.
From left are Donna Ball, Sonja Knutson, Paul Banahene Adjei, Kelly Anne Butler, Lynn Kendall, Scott Neilsen, Gerald Anderson, Carolyn Sturge Sparkes and Catharyn Andersen.
Photo: Chris Hammond

According to a recent Globe and Mail op-ed by Tim McTiernan, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and a member of the board of directors of Universities Canada, universities have a key role to play in supporting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“The TRC has given us much to consider. It calls for a reset of the relationship between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities… [it] specifically calls on educational institutions to engage with Indigenous communities and be leaders in reconciliation,” he wrote.

Indigenous education principles

Catharyn Andersen, special advisor to the president on Aboriginal affairs, believes this committee will help Memorial advance Universities Canada’s principles on Indigenous education.

“The Universities Canada principles were developed in close collaboration with Indigenous communities,” she said. “Aboriginal students are underrepresented in Canadian higher education, and the principles outlines ways in which universities can work to close the educational gap.”

Currently, only 9.8 per cent of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada have a university degree, compared with 26.5 per cent of non-Aboriginal people or Canadians.

Developing opportunities

The Universities Canada principles include being student focused; building welcoming and respectful learning environments; partnering with local Aboriginal communities; fostering intercultural engagement; and ensuring institutional commitment at every level to develop opportunities for Aboriginal students.

The mandate of Memorial’s advisory committee includes supporting the development of a strategic plan for the university’s Aboriginal Affairs office; reviewing and advancing the principles on Indigenous education; and advising on the development of communication and awareness strategies related to Aboriginal Peoples.

“Memorial University is an inclusive community that is committed to supporting Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students,” said President Gary Kachanoski. “The work of this committee will contribute to our ongoing efforts to build a welcoming and respectful environment at Memorial.”

List of members

  • Catharyn Andersen, special advisor to the president on Aboriginal affairs
  • Gerald Anderson, director of development and engagement, Marine Institute and vice-president Indigenous, UArctic
  • Donna Ball, senior policy analyst
  • Paul Banahene Adjei, assistant professor, Social Work, St. John’s campus
  • Kelly Anne Butler, student affairs officer, Aboriginal, Grenfell Campus
  • Sheila Freake, manager, Aboriginal Resource Office, St. John’s campus
  • Lynn Kendall, assistant professor, Business, Grenfell Campus
  • Sonja Knutson, director, Internationalization Office, St. John’s campus
  • Sylvia Moore, assistant professor, Education, Labrador Institute
  • Scott Neilsen, assistant professor, Archaeology, Labrador Institute
  • Carolyn Sturge-Sparkes, co-ordinator, Aboriginal Health Initiative, Faculty of Medicine (cross-appointed with Nursing), St. John’s campus

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