Aboriginal youth got the straight goods on life after high school Wednesday at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
Strengthening Connections Symposium 2011 was designed as a key to unlock the doors to the future for the nearly 70 participating secondary students.
Dan Odenbach, aboriginal program administrator at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, pulled no punches in his message.
“It’s not necessarily what’s up here (brain), it’s the drive that you have here that’s going to get you where you want to go,” he said tapping his chest. “You belong at the University of British Columbia or you belong at Okanagan College or NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) or the trades — aboriginal people belong.
“People ask me what is racism, and what gets under my skin most is when non-aboriginal people make me feel like I don’t belong here. My attitude is screw you, I don’t belong here? You don’t belong here.”
Odenbach explained his comments were not a slight against anyone but to make students understand their own importance and self worth and that they do belong.
During the day young people had an opportunity to attend three workshops as well as spend some one-on-one time with school and career representatives.
Okanagan College, Southern Skies Aviation, the RCMP and the En’owkin Centre were also among those represented at the fair.
The fifth annual symposium was a joint effort by NVIT, the Penticton School District and the Penticton Indian Band.
“Young aboriginal learners are the fastest growing population in Canada and we want to target those learners here,” said co-organizer Clint Garcia, NVIT student recruitment officer. “The message today is a few different things — for the younger students it’s about ensuring they are choosing the right programs to get into post-secondary, and for the Grade 12s we’re hoping to show them a few different options.
“You can go to a website and read for yourself, but it’s that interaction and connection that students are able to make, and there’s a comfort level here so it’s not as intimidating as it might be perceived.”
He added one of the main features of the day was to instill in the young people the importance of doing well in the critical disciplines.
“We are seeing more aboriginal students graduate, but in some cases it’s with minimal requirements in math and science,” said Garcia. “That has to change.”
To Wade Kruger, a Grade 12 student at Princess Margaret, Wednesday’s programs were very valuable in exploring his options for post-secondary training.
“This really is a great learning experience,” he said. “I really haven’t decided what I want to do but I was thinking about electrical engineering or kinesiology.”
Tyler Boyce, a Grade 10 student at Penticton Secondary School, put it simply as: “I want to get into cooking being a chef and I want to learn about different colleges and to find out how I can get to live my dreams.”