Human Rights in Arts

Events and outreach at the University of Manitoba

Mentors Needed for Aboriginal Students

Posted on | June 5, 2011 | No Comments

Some University of Manitoba Aboriginal students feel lost and alone as they pursue their dreams of becoming health professionals.

The university’s Centre for Aboriginal Health Education is recruiting mentors in health professions and the Aboriginal community to walk with students as they embark on their career paths.

Mentors might go for coffee with students, pick berries, conduct mock interviews or introduce students to colleagues in the professional community.

Elder-in-Residence Margaret Lavallee named the mentorship program Kaaweechimoseaywat, which is Ojibway for “walking with one another.” This is because mentors will likely learn from the students as they pass on their own wisdom.

“It’s not about mentors being above our students. We’re taking this journey together,” says Linda Diffey, program co-ordinator at the Centre for Aboriginal Health Education. Her mother, a residential school survivor, graduated from the St. Boniface school of nursing in 1953.

The new mentorship program was launched April 21, 2011, in the Buhler Atrium, close to the beautiful Centre for Aboriginal Health Education that overlooks McDermot Avenue.

About 70 people came out to hear Theodore Fontaine read from his new book Broken Circle, about the impact of Manitoba residential schools on his life. The book had been nominated for a Manitoba Book Award.

Fontaine, who studied civil engineering at the University of Manitoba for a few years in the 1980s, said Canadians hearing about residential schools constantly ask, “Why can’t those Indians get over it?”

The autobiography is his answer. Aboriginal Canadians aren’t over residential schools because it takes a lifetime for survivors to heal from the traumatic memories and learned shame about being Aboriginal.

“We started cheering for the cowboys,” after watching Westerns at school every Friday night, Fontaine recalls.

The audience at the mentorship launch was hungry for his words, hoping his book will become part of the curriculum in high school and university courses. One health-care worker dressed in scrubs rushed over from a nearby clinic to tell Fontaine his book is the story of her life—even though she’s a generation younger. Others at the event were university students untangling unhealthy emotional patterns picked up from parents raised by priests.

University of Manitoba psychology PhD student Stephanie Sinclair told the crowd she hopes to research the inter-generational impacts of residential schools.

Barry Lavallee, acting director of the Centre for Aboriginal Health Education, said there has been “an organized silence” about what happened to First Nations.

One of his biggest challenges as a physician is getting the health system to understand what residential school and other assimilation policies did to Aboriginal people. “We invite you… not to take over for us, but as partners,” he said to the non-Aboriginal professionals in the audience.


The Centre for Aboriginal Health Education is looking for health professionals with established careers—both faculty members and practitioners—as well as members of the Aboriginal community. You don’t need to be Aboriginal to be a mentor. Simply visit the centre at: A101 Chown Building, 753 McDermot Ave., phone 204-789-3511 or email:


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    The Faculty of Arts Human Rights blog highlights information about current research projects focusing on Human Rights issues. We will also advise you of upcoming conferences, symposiums, workshops and other outreach activities related to Human Rights both within the Faculty of Arts and across the University. If you have an event or project that you would like posted in the blog and/or the bi-weekly E-Memo, please send the details to Shawn Jordan, Communications Coordinator (
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