From recruitment to college to career, Mary MacLeod-Beaver aims to support Indigenous students

Nimkiinaabkawaagan Mary MacLeod-Beaver wants to ensure Indigenous students feel supported throughout their post-secondary journey, even after graduation.

“Indigenous students come from various backgrounds and some have made great strides to get here. I think it’s important to have a role like this one to ensure that those students feel seen and supported because they deserve the same opportunities as others,” said Mary, who is the Indigenous Student Transitions Advisor at Fleming College.

In her role, Mary does community outreach and engagement, represents Fleming at the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Information Program, coordinates Fleming’s Indigenous student orientation and mentorship program (Bishkaa), and develops and delivers programs to support Indigenous students moving beyond Fleming College.

“It differs from mainstream recruitment in that our goal is to see Indigenous students successful in how they determine success for themselves,” she explains. “And that may not mean Fleming College is a part of it; but if it is, great! We’ll be here to help them through their Fleming journey.”

Mary said financial barriers is one obstacle that may deter students from applying, which is why she promotes scholarships and bursaries that are available for Indigenous students.

“The feeling of ‘can I do it? Am I smart enough?’ is another barrier for students,” she explains. It’s important for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected at these institutions so that when they have feelings like this, they can look to others who are like them and see them be successful.”

Mary is from Alderville First Nation and attended Trent University for Business Administration – Human Resources Management. Her previous experience includes Lands and Consultation with Alderville First Nation and working as the Indigenous Enrolment Advisor at Trent University. She is excited to now be part of the Indigenous Student Services team at Fleming College.

“This role is holistic in support from a student’s perspective. From my own experience, I’ve realized how important it is for Indigenous students to feel welcomed and connected when they come to post-secondary. And I’m grateful to be a part of that experience with students,” said Mary, who looks forward to watching new students transition to college life and see where their journey takes them after Fleming.

“I believe there are great supports here for Indigenous students,” said Mary. “The students that I have met so far at Fleming have truly made me feel like I belong here. The sense of community that they are helping to create is really cool to see. I feel like anyone would be lucky to be a part of it– only you can really choose whether Fleming is the right choice for you, so please come visit!”

Keeping strong cultural and spiritual ties is important to Fleming Grad Recruiter Rebekah Rego

Fleming College’s commitment to helping every student succeed is what makes it so special to Rebekah Rego.

“Everyone here is dedicated to your success,” explains Rebekah. “Faculty and staff strive to help and want to see you succeed!”

As an Anishinaabek student, success to Rebekah means maintaining her strong cultural and spiritual ties, which is why she connected with Indigenous Student Services.

Indigenous Student Services at Fleming aims to help students transition into college by providing support, information and resources, cultural programming, and by acting as a link to the college and wider community. It quickly became Rebekah’s favourite place on campus.

“Indigenous Student Services felt like my home away from home,” shared Rebekah. “Indigenous Student Services provided me support and a safe place to strive as an Anishinaabek student. Their services include Elder visits and a medicine room.”

She added that the staff are supportive and provide cultural programming that fits everyone’s schedule to ensure events and programming are easily accessible.

Rebekah graduated this June from the Social Service Worker program with the Indigenous Perspectives Designation. She thoroughly enjoyed her Fleming experience, including the Sutherland Campus, Fleming staff, academics and the extracurricular activities she was involved in.

“I felt like I was a part of the Fleming community,” said Rebekah. “I had such amazing and meaningful experiences during my time at Fleming.”

At Fleming College, Rebekah said she was able to learn valuable skills while developing herself as a professional.

“My program helped me prepare for the working world while I also learned how to give a voice to those who cannot, be involved in community events, organize a student club and have the responsibility of being on committees,” she said.

Rebekah feels so strongly about Fleming College that she is joining the Student Recruitment team this fall as a Fleming Grad Recruiter. Rebekah will be travelling across Ontario to share information about Fleming with prospective students.

“I am really looking forward to being able to share my enthusiasm for learning and my passion for Fleming so that other potential students can see the valuable opportunity Fleming presents for their future careers,” said Rebekah. “I cannot wait to meet students across the province and share my experiences and knowledge with them.”

Graduation gowns and medicine wheels; why many Fleming College graduates wore a medicine wheel pin at convocation

Indigenous Student Services Coordinator Ashley Safar at convocation
Indigenous Student Services Coordinator Ashley Safar at convocation

Every year at convocation, a representative from Indigenous Student Services will stand before graduates to acknowledge that Fleming College is situated on Michi Saagiig lands and the traditional territory covered by the Williams Treaty and Treaty Number 20, and thank the Michi Saagiig peoples for allowing us to work in their territory. But at this year’s ceremonies, many in the sea of graduates adorned their gown with a medicine wheel pin to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous peoples.

At the Frost Campus and Sutherland Campus convocation ceremonies, Indigenous Student Services staff and volunteers congratulated graduates before the ceremony and gave them the opportunity to sign a declaration. The declaration states, “By signing above, I am making a declaration to move forward in my professional and personal life as a person who acknowledges the rights of Indigenous peoples and will advocate for further respect towards First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples within the territory that I choose to call home.”

Each student who signed the declaration was given a medicine wheel pin to proudly display on their convocation gown. According to Indigenous Student Services, 191 graduates signed the declaration at the Frost Campus ceremony, and 700 graduates signed the declaration at the six Sutherland Campus ceremonies.

“As a college, we are collectively striving towards creating a campus culture of one that respects and honours the First Peoples of this land. This initiative, this opportunity for making a public declaration, brings us one step closer to seeing this vision come to fruition,” said Kylie Fox, Assistant Manager of Indigenous Student Services, who said Fleming College has done a lot of great work in the past few years to ensure Indigenous students and staff feel welcome and safe on campus, and is working towards a place where Indigenous peoples will begin to see themselves represented in all areas of campus life.

Photo courtesy of Indigenous Student Services
Photo courtesy of Indigenous Student Services

“Standing in the audience this year, visibly seeing our allies in the room, it was overwhelming and extremely powerful. You could see how proud students were to show their support,” said Kylie. “Knowing that almost 1, 000 Fleming graduates are moving into the workforce with this intention of honouring the rights of Indigenous peoples, I think that gives us a lot of hope for our future and it also says a lot about the type of citizens we are fostering here at Fleming. So, miigwech, thank you to all of you who supported this initiative and to those of you who signed the declaration. Niwii Kaanaaganaa, with all of my relations.”

Indigenous Student Services Coordinator Ashley Safar said the declaration will be offered annually at Fleming convocation. “This is an idea we’ve discussed for a while because we wanted to increase awareness,” she said. “And the Indigenous Perspectives Designation has gained more momentum and more schools are incorporating it into their curriculum. There’s some growth in the college and we wanted to represent that.”

The Indigenous Perspectives Designation (IPD) is an optional learning opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of Indigenous peoples, their cultures, histories, traditions and contributions to our shared society. The designation is available to students in the following programs:

  • Child and Youth Care
  • Ecosystem Management Technician
  • Ecosystem Management Technology
  • Mental Health and Addiction Worker
  • Social Service Worker
  • Community and Justice Services
  • Customs Border Services
  • Law Clerk
  • Paralegal
  • Police Foundations
  • Early Childhood Education.

Graduates with an IPD have a strong foundational basis in Indigenous Studies.

Several programs are currently developing curriculum to meet the IPD requirements, and a number of programs that do not offer the IPD have included the opportunity for students to take one or both GNED courses. Some programs have modified their vocational subjects to include Indigenous content.

Fleming College has a long history of supporting Indigenous learners and has relied on its Indigenous Education Council (an advisory committee made up of local Indigenous leaders) for more than two decades. Simultaneously, both Fleming’s Indigenous curriculum and support services have continued to grow. In December 2015, Fleming College formally committed to Indigenous education by signing the Colleges and Institutes Canada Indigenous Education Protocol, which reaffirms Fleming’s commitment to Indigenous education and provides a vision of how the college will strive to improve and better serve Indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous Education Council at Fleming College has been active since 1992. It has included representatives from local First Nations, local community representation such as local Elders and Traditional Knowledge holders, Indigenous youth and student representation; as well as internal employees of Fleming, who are all committed to Indigenous education.