COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Courtney McKinney is enrolled in Brandon University’s newest program, which offers a bachelor of arts honours degree with a clinical specialization in native studies.
Brandon University is now offering an honours degree to provide students with the clinical skills and cultural knowledge required to work with aboriginal peoples and communities.
Providing the new program is also a way of responding to the needs of the aboriginal community, according to BU arts dean Bruce Strang.
"I think this really speaks to a program that’s really reflective of a critical social justice issue in the province of Manitoba," Strang said. "We have to try and deal with the legacy of the residential school era but also many other issues."
A clinical specialization in native studies will recognize the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of aboriginal knowledge while helping students develop counselling practice skills.
Courses will also give students insight into understanding the trauma suffered as a result of residential schools, colonialism and alcohol abuse found in certain aboriginal populations.
"There’s a lot of trauma that’s been inflicted and we got a really tough road to hoe as a national community to try and heal some of that damage," Strang said.
Classes began earlier this month, making BU the first post-secondary institution in North America to offer this type of degree. The program spans four years and starts off similar to the native studies program before it shifts gears "quite dramatically," Strang said.
A large portion of the program is conducted during the fourth year when students earn hands-on experience during their practicum. This time is spent expanding upon their knowledge of aboriginal health issues.
A practicum will also give students a chance to come face-to-face with others in the community, says Samaritan House executive director Marla Somersall.
"If students want to come in and work side by side with the folks we serve, then that gives them an opportunity to get to know people as people and sort of how they can fit into their lives and how they can help them," Somersall said.
After working with BU and Assiniboine Community College on other projects, Somersall said she’s looking forward to furthering those partnerships.
"The program is going to develop and we’ll see where we can fit in in a good way."
Among the eight students enrolled in the program so far is Courtney Mckinney who said she’s already enjoying her classes.
"It offers a cultural component to it, so that’s what really makes it unique, because that’s included as well," she said.
Mckinney was originally enrolled in the discontinued indigenous health and human services program, but said this was a good transition for her because she’s always wanted to become a councillor.
Graduates of the program will have employment opportunities in aboriginal and non-aboriginal agencies, organizations and communities. Roles may include working in youth advocacy areas, victim services, truth and reconciliation, drug treatment, as well as family and child support.
"Generally speaking, we know that there are inadequate numbers of health-care professionals and social workers who are trained to work with these types of populations as a whole," Strang said. "To be able to offer an opportunity for non-aboriginal students and aboriginal students alike ... will be a really powerful combination of job skills and then have a really powerful social justice impact on the region."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 17, 2013