Relationships matter: Supporting Aboriginal graduate students in British Columbia, Canada
The current Canadian landscape of graduate education has pockets of presence of Indigenous faculty, students, and staff. The reality is that all too often, Aboriginal graduate students are either among the few, or is the sole Aboriginal person in an entire faculty. They usually do not have mentorship or guidance from an Indigenous faculty member orally, that is, someone who is supportive of Indigenous knowledges and Indigenity. While many institutions are working to recruit and retain Aboriginal graduate students, more attention needs to be paid to culturally relevant strategies, policies, and approaches. This paper critically examines the role of a culturally relevant peer and faculty mentoring initiative—SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement)—which works to better guide institutional change for Indigenous graduate student success. The key findings show that the relationships in SAGE create a sense of belonging and networking opportunities, and it also fosters self-accountability to academic studies for many students because they no longer feel alone in their graduate journey. The paper concludes with a discussion on the implications of a culturally relevant peer-support program for mentoring, recruiting, and retaining Aboriginal graduate students. It also puts forth a challenge to institutions to better support Aboriginal graduate student recruitment and retention through their policies, programs, and services within the institution.