Mohawk College contingent presents innovative Pathfinder program at global Indigenous education conference
Four previous Pathfinder participants and two Mohawk College staff members presented at the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Adelaide, Australia in September.
The group shared about the innovative program and their own personal experiences.
Pathfinder is a three-week land-based program at Mohawk College’s campus that marked its 12th year this summer. It encourages Indigenous students to learn about and become engaged in post-secondary education while at the same time learning about their Indigenous heritage through hearing from local elders, knowledge keepers, and facilitators.
WIPCE draws Indigenous education experts, practitioners, scholars and students from across the globe to share successes and strategies for culturally grounded education. It’s the largest and most diverse Indigenous education forum in the world.
“The cool thing is that we have seen there are a lot more organizations and schools doing this kind of program globally than we would have thought,” says Amanda White, Manager of Indigenous Student Services.
The Mohawk College contingent was supposed to travel to the conference in 2020, but COVID delayed that. When they finally got to go two years later, it took two days longer to get to Adelaide than scheduled when three plane rides became six.
Despite the delays and the exhausting time zone changes, it was all worth it to be there, says the group.
“It’s incredible to see the different cultures,” said Amanda Aitchison, the Indigenous awareness programmer at Mohawk College. “On the first day, there was a parade of nations and they all shared a song or their language. That was empowering to hear these languages because so much of that has been lost.”
The group also took an excursion that featured boomerang throwing, wood carving and cooking.
The conference was nothing but positive energy, says Ashley Hogan, who participated in the Pathfinder program beginning in Grade 9. It enabled her to learn about her Indigenous culture and grow in confidence.
“It definitely helped me to spread my wings in numerous ways,” she says. “It’s a very supportive community. You are able to be yourself without any judgment.”
A trip to British Columbia with the program introduced her to the concept of neuroscience. Hogan, 20, completed a Pre-Health program at Mohawk College before enrolling in human behaviour at McMaster University.
Caroline Hill took part in Pathfinder in one of the first cohorts and attended four more times. Now 26, she is a graduate of Mohawk College’s Recreation Therapy program and then earned a graduate certificate in Mental Health and Disability Management. Hill now works in a long-term care home and serves as a mentor for younger Pathfinder participants.
“It’s a rewarding thing to help younger students find their own footing.”
She says she would have never found her way to post-secondary studies without the Pathfinder program.
“It made me enjoy learning in all its forms, like classrooms, listening to elders, doing hands-on things. I really can’t believe this program that I didn’t really want to go to has led to all of this.”
Jason Seth and Chris Smoke also took part in the trip as Pathfinder participants, who each earned a credit in Global Experiences. The travel was supported by an external program donor.