Universite Laval, Mastercard Foundation team up to support Indigenous students, studies

One of Quebec’s largest universities is looking to double its number of Indigenous students in the next half-decade, and a massive donation from the Mastercard Foundation will go a long way towards helping them do it, the school’s rector said.

Universite Laval in Quebec City is hoping to double its Indigenous student population in the next five years – from 400 now to 800 – and with the $15-million, five-year commitment, it is looking to add scholarships, programs of study and Indigenous safe spaces for students, the school’s rector said.

“This extraordinary partnership with the Mastercard Foundation gives us the means to achieve our goals,” said Sophie D’Amours. “With this support, we can take concrete action to strengthen our friendship with Indigenous peoples, create change, offer mentorships with elders from their communities, and make a significant difference in the lives of many Indigenous youth by giving them the opportunity to start or continue to pursue a university education.”

The donation, which will support the development of new programs that decolonize and Indigenize knowledge and learning and provide 10 graduate scholarships to be offered to Indigenous doctoral students interested in pursuing a career as a faculty member at Université Laval – comes on the heels of the heels of an announcement of a new residence for First Nations and Inuit students on campus and the creation of a First Peoples circle.

The head of Canadian programs for the Mastercard Foundation said the organization is listening to Indigenous young people.

“We are listening to the voices of Indigenous young people and they tell us that education and the land are two inter-related priorities,” said Jennifer Brennan. “This partnership will support Indigenous young people to advance their education and to connect to their lands and to the traditional knowledges that have sustained their territories for generations and are central to future opportunities. This is an exciting initiative to advance our shared goal of finding innovative approaches to support young Indigenous people through education and on to meaningful livelihoods.”

All of the new programs have been designed in collaboration with local Indigenous communities, a university statement said.

One of the most important measures to be bolstered by the partnership is a training program for land guardians currently being developed at the university. There are also plans for a microprogram in archaeology for Indigenous students, a land stewardship program, and various programs to meet community needs.

Retreats will also be held once a year in remote areas and rural parts of the province. The idea is to create an alternative educational space that allows students to connect with Indigenous Elders and experts and benefit from their knowledge and experience.

Other planned initiatives include a fund to help students buy books and academic materials, training for staff who work with Indigenous students, an orientation day exclusively for Indigenous students, and financial support for the Indigenous student association.

The CEO of the university’s fundraising foundation said Indigenous students will be regularly consulted on the program and its impacts.

“The agreement is meant to be dynamic,” said Universite Laval foundation CEO Alain Gilbert. “Regular meetings will be held with Indigenous students and partners to monitor the impact of the partnership. We would like to thank the Mastercard Foundation for its confidence in our institution. This exceptional joint partnership reflects Université Laval’s deep commitment to the cause of reconciliation and inclusion of First Nations communities.”

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase