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Dawson College honours Indigenous students

Several Kanien’kehá:ka students received awards from Dawson College on May 21 upon completing Journeys: A First Peoples College Transition Program. (Courtesy Dawson College)


Several Indigenous students at Dawson College who completed a one-year transition program were honoured with awards for their academics, leadership and community involvement. 

Kanien’kehá:ka student Kahenientha Cross received the Journeys Award, a $1,000 prize developed by English teacher Susan Briscoe. 

“She (Briscoe) has terminal cancer, so she wasn’t able to continue as a Journeys teacher, but I really wanted to create something that would last and would encourage and inspire Indigenous students at Dawson,” said program coordinator Michelle Smith. 

“It’s an award that recognizes not only academics, but leadership and contribution to the community, and the journeys engagement awards are similarly about leadership and engagement in and out the classroom.” 

Journeys: A First Peoples College Transition Program is a year-long program at Dawson meant to provide First Nations, Inuit and Metis students with a welcoming, supportive and culturally relevant environment for learning at the post-secondary level. 

Throughout the year, the students were offered credited general education courses that combine Indigenous knowledge, cultural, traditions and pedagogical approaches with the academic knowledge and study skill necessary for success at the post-secondary level. 

“It was pretty sweet to get such an awesome award from such a good program,” said Cross. 

“Journeys prepped me for the responsibility of college, like being my own teacher sometimes and making sure I’m handing my stuff in time because the teachers aren’t in our butts for that.” 

Cross first wanted to take the program because she struggled with French in high school. 

“But then once I got accepted, I decided I wanted a kick ass R-score, then I eventually turned into trying to get everyone in my class to get a kick ass R-score,” she said. “It didn’t really work for everyone, but I hope I motivated some people.” 

Kanien’kehá:ka student Melody Horn and Cree student Alexandrea Matthews were also honoured with $250 Journeys engagement awards. 

“It feels good because I never really seen myself as a ‘leader type.’ I was always really just doing my own thing, and then as time went on I didn’t realize it but people would ask for my help or ask me for advice and I’d always help them out,” said Horn. 

Seventeen students completed the transition program, which was launched in 2016, and were eligible to apply to transfer into one of Dawson’s pre-university or career programs. 

“I measure the success of the program based on the feedback from the students. Every student told me that they would recommend the program, and that they’re very happy that they did the program,” said Smith.

“That’s the important aspect of the whole thing, that the students feel comfortable there and that they think it’s important and worthwhile for them.”

Cross will be transferring to psychology, while Horn will be starting the social service program. Both said their experience in Journeys would help them prepare for their new academic endeavors.

“Journeys has helped me give me many ideas on what I want my life-long career to be (I don’t know exactly what yet but I want it be something involving helping people because it’s what I do best). It has also helped me work on my communication skills, my leadership skills and helped me outgrow my shyness by meeting so many outgoing students around me,” said Horn.

“Also the teachers in the Journeys program and the First Peoples coordinator (Tiawentinon Canadian) are so welcoming and are always there for when you need help, but I grew my skills from the other Indigenous people around me at Dawson, because traits like leadership, communication, helpfulness and being outgoing are all needed in the social service field.”

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Jessica Deer was a staff reporter from 2015-2018 who started out in 2008 as a summer student.