Aboriginal tradition meets future at TRU

'Before, I was scared and nervous, but now I'm like, I can't wait'

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
November 15, 2012 01:00 AM

Brianna Medeiros, left, and friend Rachelle Heglin were among students at TRU's seventh annual Transitions Day.

More than 200 aboriginal students from throughout the Kamloops-Thompson School District were inspired to continue on their path to higher education on Thursday.

They had gathered for the seventh annual transitions day at Thompson Rivers University, which helps demystify the university experience and make it more welcoming for aboriginal youth.

It was inspirational for a few Grade 12 Westsyde Secondary students.

"It shows you a different sense of schooling," said 16-year-old Rachel Heglin. "For some people it's very tense and stressful because you have no idea what it's going to be like. You come from a place where everyone is closed in and sheltered and you're moved into a place that's just all you."

Her schoolmate, 17-year-old Brie Medeiron, said she's excited because she's got a clearer sense of what she's in for.

"Before, I was scared and nervous, but now I'm like, I can't wait."

Of TRU's nearly 14,000 on-campus students, nearly 11 per cent are Aboriginal.

Vernie Clement was among the many Aboriginal mentors providing talks and tours for the youth. He said with TRU's first year dropout rate for aboriginals at 46 per cent, initiatives like transition day are crucial for retention.

"The first reason (for dropping out) is academics, the next reason is that they don't feel welcome," said Clement. "A welcoming environment is a very important part of why they leave. So we're hoping to turn around those things. We're looking to help train our next leaders."

During his orientation talks, Clement underlines the importance of getting involved in the aboriginal-related activities and groups at the school.

"As an aboriginal person, I really value the connections I have with people so whenever I meet somebody I try to find the connection whether it's through their school or family or an activity that they do," he said. "Being involved in the community really connects them to it and they grow a part of it and that's helped with one of the sad statistics we have here."

The numbers are proof the effort is working, said Clement. The day is now so popular they now have to cap the number of participating students at 200.

For aboriginal elder Mike Arnuse, the gathering is a joy to behold.

"It seems like the number of people is growing every year," he said, surveying the crowd in TRU's Grand Hall.

Arnuse is part of TRU's Elders in the House program, which connects elders with students to provide personal consultation, conversation, guidance and mentorship.

He said his experience in the school system was much different when he was young.

"I don't think they really meant to educate us," he said. "To me, the co-operation between schools and the university (today) seems to be working."

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