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Indigenous Access Programs

In their Own Words

With help and guidance, students in Indigenous Access programs build self-confidence and self-awareness. Read their stories.

Getting her spark back

Lorri Leonard, Shuswap Nation

Lorri Leonard in the library.

For over 20 years, Lorri Leonard had a perfectly good career going as a hairdresser when not just one but two bouts of breast cancer convinced her it was time for a change – and that eventually led to her taking English upgrading at the Grade 12-level in the community, at the Saanich Adult Education Centre.

“Maybe I could have gone right into college-level,” she says, “but it was so foreign and so scary to be even thinking about going back to school that starting slower really was better.”

Lorri does not have fond memories of high school, to put it mildly. “It was an incredible struggle,” she says, “and just simply walking on campus to talk to an Indigenous Advisor brought back bad memories. It was really hard, very emotional. But Suzanne Wilkinson was great. She helped me start my journey. I started back at school the same day my son started kindergarten.”

So far, Lorri’s journey has taken her to the very top of the School of Access academic rankings and on to completion of the Indigenous Studies program. Her goal: to transfer to the University of Victoria for a BA in early childhood education.

Now 42, Lorri says that “without Indigenous College Prep, I would probably have dropped out by now. But Camosun has given life back to me. I’ve got my spark back. I’m excited again and I can’t wait to get out of bed each day.”

Going to college is different than high school—it's like being with family

Danielle Robbins, Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw Nation

Danielle Robbins

Danielle Robbins is a graduate of the pilot IHSCAP class of 2010, and explains she was nervous before coming to college.

"I thought it was going to be just like high school, with groups and people who aren't serious. But with the college classmates, it was more like being in school with all your friends helping you along. You're never by yourself, so that was really good, and going to school was more like going to see our family. It was cool how we all got to be in the exact same classes and form a bond." Danielle especially liked the variety of ages in her class. "There are no groups at all and even though I was the youngest, I was never alone."

Danielle first heard about IHSCAP while still in high school, and was encouraged to consider it by Camosun Indigenous Advisor, Marcey Louie. "I didn't really think anything of it at first," says Danielle. "Then I saw Marcey outside of school, and she told me about it again. I thought, maybe I'll try that, because I needed to upgrade my English anyways. I really liked how much support there was and the teachers were always checking on us to make sure everything was going okay."

In addition to academic support, Danielle really appreciated the assistance she received when it came to details like registration and course selection. "It was great because a person came right to our class and showed us how to register. She did it all for us, then taught us how to do it ourselves. Everything and everyone is here for you, in class and in the Indigenous office."

Recently, Danielle graduated with a Diploma in Community, Family and Child Studies. She wants to be an outreach worker, helping street populations with homelessness, addictions and mental illness.

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