Aboriginal higher learner success factors at vancouver community college

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Maximizing Benefits

The benefits of this research included respecting and supporting Consortium Aboriginal community partners exercising educational jurisdiction to determine the use and dissemination of research information. This community integration and recognition of authority will build community capacity that benefits Aboriginal learners in a culturally appropriate way.


I believe that this research paper not only meets, but exceeds all ethical considerations undertaken with Aboriginal peoples because I, as a First Nations researcher, am acutely aware of historical injustices in research of Aboriginal peoples that have not supported the intended outcome of good research. This included following traditional practices and protocols and utilizing an Indigenous methodology that permeated the ethics of this study.

This chapter identified the methodology and approach for this research, identified who the participants were that were involved in my research, the methods and tools that were used to collect data, analysis of the data, and ethical considerations to effectively examine “What factors contribute to the success of Aboriginal learners at VCC?” In the next chapter, I will examine the research results, findings, and conclusions derived from the research.


The foundation of Indigenous research lies within the reality of the lived Indigenous experience. Indigenous researchers ground their research knowingly in the lives of real persons as individuals and social beings, not on the world of ideas. (Wilson, 2008, p. 60)


The purpose of this action research was to identify the success factors that support Aboriginal higher learner’s success. This includes participation and completion arising from complex systems within the world of the Aboriginal learner and the world of post-secondary institutions. These findings represent the voice of many Aboriginal learners in the focus groups, who are also part of my Aboriginal community, and respected leaders within VCC, for whom I am privileged to speak within this research: O Siem.

Study Findings

This section includes findings by the literature review, feedback from 15 Aboriginal learners who participated in four focus groups, and three senior-level leaders from VCC who participated in interviews to answer the question of what factors contribute to the success of Aboriginal learners. In addition, within the focus groups, approximately thirty Aboriginal learners could not participate for the entire session primarily due to class schedules, but did sit in for a short time. As these learners did not sign the informed consent form, their comments have not been included. Currently, according to the student records, Aboriginal learners study in cohort and blended programs in the following disciplines: health, culinary arts, and developmental programs that include basic education, upgrading, and university transfer courses. Focus group participants were invited primarily from these disciplines. Focus group findings are identified by “FG” and the number indicating which focus group the feedback was derived from: for example, FG1, FG2, F3, or FG4. Similarly, interview findings are identified by “INT” and the number indicating which interview the feedback was derived from: for example, INT1, INT2, or INT3. The focus group and interview findings have been themed into the following categories: (a) Aboriginal learners support systems, (b) Aboriginal cultural integration within programs, (c) what students identified as factors for success in post-secondary education, (d) what is currently working well to support Aboriginal learners at VCC, and (e) what would work well in the future to meet the needs of Aboriginal learners to succeed at VCC.

Finding 1: Aboriginal Learners Support Systems

During the focus group, learners were asked to envision achieving their education goals and asked to share supports they felt would be necessary for them to achieve their goals (see focus group questions in Appendix G). Consistent with the 2009 Aboriginal learners survey (Dipuma, 2009), focus group participants cited family as their most important support, followed by instructors and peers at the college, the AES staff, and their community (p. 1). Despite the need for a strong family support system, many participants in all focus groups reported that they had not grown up in their community and that cultural loss from residential schools had limited their understanding of their own culture. They wanted more cultural services within VCC to support their success. In all focus groups, participants also discussed the need for more cultural sensitivity with instructors, amongst peers, and with all VCC employees who are part of the VCC community. Interview participants agreed with the themes brought out by the focus group participants and unanimously agreed that the AES staff were doing a great job.

Finding 2: Cultural Integration within Programs

Consistent with the literature review section of this report, focus group participants who had attended both an Aboriginal post-secondary institute or Aboriginal transition program and a public post-secondary institute identified high levels of satisfaction with programs where there was a holistic integration of Aboriginal culture within the program delivery. Due to the identifiable information within these discussions, direct quotes are not included. Aboriginal learners from the Aboriginal Gateway to Heath Careers Course reported a high level of satisfaction with the cultural integration and activities. Two interview participants agreed with cultural integration as a success factor identified within the VCC Aboriginal Gateways to Health Careers Course.

Cultural integration in program delivery at VCC as undertaken in the Aboriginal Gateways to Health Careers courses are consistent with the success factors within First Nation education systems in BC represented through the Indigenous Institutes of Higher Learning Association (IAHLA). Since the 2005/06 academic year, the 36 IAHLA institutes have reported annually that learners report satisfaction with relationships within the institutes. Their reporting process utilizes a holistic matrix that is based upon First Nations culture and values, including learner “personal development, leadership development, cultural development, wisdom development [literacy and numeracy], and student satisfaction” (Tindall & Juniper, 2010, p. iv). Indeed, Storytellers’ Foundation & Gitxsan Wet’suwet’en Education Society (2005) has explained that “First Nations-operated post-secondary institutions have existed successfully for a number of decades, which demonstrates their commitment to education and the effectiveness of their culturally immersed programs and practices” (p. 5). At the heart of this success is the ability of First Nations post-secondary institutes to provide “inclusion of their traditional language and culture as their main best practice” (p. 5). Additionally:

For First Nations-controlled post-secondary institutes the definition of student success may be somewhat different than mainstream institutions. It is evident that the programming offered by the organizations is often beyond developing skill sets for individual advancement and is frequently more directed to training individuals within the context of the common good for the community. As one respondent said, “it’s about training to keep the community alive. (p. 3)

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