SMU native students ask for full-time adviser

The Aboriginal Society at SMU says an increase in number of native students calls for more resources.

This story has been updated since initially published.

Natteal Battiste is Saint Mary’s only Aboriginal Adviser. Battiste and students alike think it’s a job too big for a part-timer to handle. (Photo: Zeina Jreige)

When Natteal Battiste first enrolled at Saint Mary’s University, the university didn’t have many aboriginal students.

Three years later, she’s the only the part-time adviser for 75 aboriginal students. She says after observing the numbers of those in high school coming into university these past few years, she expects the number to double next fall.

The part-time adviser just started this past September, but soon realized aboriginal students don’t have the resources that other schools do.

SMU only has one office for aboriginal students to visit – and it’s the size of a walk-in closet.

Battiste has to share her office with two other advisers, where things often get hectic and disorganized. On top of this, she works as the black student adviser.

Battiste recently met with the senior director of student services, Keith Hotchkiss, to make a case for more resources.

She says the difference between SMU and Dal is that while SMU has one part-time adviser, Dalhousie University has one full-time adviser and two part-timers.

So does Acadia University – and Saint Francis Xavier University has three full-time advisers.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Nova Scotia Community College has seven different campus locations for aboriginal services.

Battiste says it’s important SMU doesn’t fall behind in supplying student resources.

“As aboriginal students experience the culture shock of entering university, they wish to connect with someone who understands their background and connect with on a deeper level when seeking academic advice,” says Battiste.

Brittany Prosper is one of this year’s 75 aboriginal students, not to mention the president of the Aboriginal Society.

Prosper, who’s a second-year political science student at the university, says having a dedicated adviser would “change the dynamics of comfort (amongst) aboriginal students a lot.”

The student says a full-time adviser could tend to the needs of students more quickly in comparison to now, where office hours are only three times a week during morning hours when many students have class.

She finds it inconvenient.

Dalhousie University has a large native network known as a “supportive environment” for all aboriginal students in the metro area.

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It’s a division of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq Education Department. The network helps aboriginal students build support networks in their field of study.

Dal also works with the Native Post Secondary Education Counselling Unit. They’ve hosted numerous social events, which include potlucks and cultural conferences.

Dal also has a full-time academic counsellor for its aboriginal students. In this sector, the rooms are fully equipped with a kitchen and study rooms.

SMU’s Aboriginal Society is currently working on getting a lounge.

Another aboriginal student at the school, Billy Gloade, says, “If we had a private adviser it would help us have a professional at our disposal and would help us move along in our programs.”

Battiste’s duties include dealing with student concerns about finance aid and scholarships, campus resources and student services programs, as well as organizing events for aboriginal students to attend.

“SMU is determining what to do with the empty space in the old TESL building, located on South Street. I opened a request to take over one or two classrooms to use for a space for aboriginal students. This was an eye-opener (to staff) of the lack of aboriginal services at (our university).”

Battiste and Aboriginal Society members at SMU also brought up the issue to Venktesh Sharma, a member of the Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association, in mid-October.

Sharma said he notified the SMUSA board and they’re in full support of the request.

Prosper says it’s not an issue of students being ignored – just a need for more resources because they deserve it.

Behind this door, Battiste shares her office to help over one-hundred students, who are a part of different societies. (Photo: Zeina Jreige)

Battiste believes the best way for students to have a fair chance at success is to have the support of alumni and people that understand them.

“(The other universities) have created a valuable connection between aboriginal communities and schools. One of the biggest reasons that aboriginal students drop out of university within the first year is because they cannot transition into post-secondary life. They often feel lost, alone and that no one really cares. Coming into a diverse population is a culture shock,” says Battiste.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of aboriginal students enrolled in university was less than half compared to non-Aboriginal students.

Sharma says the school and aboriginal students won’t find out the results before next semester.

He’s hoping for an early decision but says the SMU board is in charge of approving and hiring new advisers.

Update: The school has hired a designated black student adviser for their students.