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Saturday , 24 October 2020
Voyage Portaging Together. Image credit: Portage College.

Portaging Together in northern Alberta

Portage College released a publication titled, Voyage: Portaging Together, to highlight programs, partnerships, and their past, present, and future.

The publication is a collection of the college’s partnerships within the community, and their collaboration with education, government, and industry to showcase what the college has been working towards and how they support their local organizations.

“It’s for our stakeholders, partners, collaborators, and government to show them how much we value their partnerships and the real impact of working together. This is the first publication of this type for us, and it is really celebrating our journey of togetherness,” said Jaime Davies, Corporate Communications Manager for Portage College.

Some of the partnerships that are mentioned in the publication are with a variety of community groups that both support and benefit from their joint activities. For example, they have highlighted Frog Lake First Nation where they work with the Social Development group to provide customized training and educational opportunities in the Nation. Another example is their work with Community Futures through initiatives like youth strategy planning.

Nancy Broadbent, the President and CEO at Portage College, discusses why staying connected to the community is so important. 

“As a comprehensive community college, Portage is charged with the stewardship of its region, which means that we work very closely with our partners,” said Broadbent.

“As a rural Community College, we need our partners to assist with providing the best experiences for our students. It’s a symbiotic relationship where we partner to make improvements in the community, but we also need those community partners to make things better for students.”

Portage College gives its students diverse, experiential opportunities within its programs and services.

The College sets up students for success by exposing them to real-world situations and allowing them to speak with established professionals in their desired field.

“We provide the full range of training from foundational literacy all the way to university transfer. Many of our programs have embedded university-level courses, opening pathways for future expansion of their post-secondary opportunities,” said Broadbent.

“We are a pathway institution, so we’ve invested significant effort in the past few years making sure all of our programs and courses are transferable. If a student starts with us they can carry those credits along with them to other institutions.”

Honouring the beginning

Portage College honours the people that fought to keep the college up and running when the government planned to shut it down in 1970.

In 1968, the institution started out as Alberta NewStart, and it was a way for the federal government to research adult education. Alberta NewStart offered programs like wild fur management, academic upgrading, trapping, and oil field management.

In 1970, the government announced closure of Alberta NewStart and stopped all research, leaving Lac La Biche without any adult education. In response, a group of Indigenous community members participated in a 26 day sit-in which was successful, and led to the government giving a grant to Alberta NewStart to keep the program going.

Broadbent acknowledges the importance that moment in history has had on communities they serve and the obligation they have to continue facilitating deep connections.

“Without that sit-in, the college wouldn’t exist. If the people in our community didn’t show how much they cared about education for the people, we probably wouldn’t be operating. So to us, the stories of these great leaders serves as role models for our students. We encourage students to use their voices and stand up for what’s important,” said Broadbent.

Since then, Portage College has continued to serve the Indigenous people of the region and takes the response to create a welcoming and safe community for all those from all cultures and backgrounds.

One of the ways Portage honors Indigenous culture is by supporting a one-of-a-kind museum called the Museum of Aboriginal Peoples’ Arts and Artifacts which includes the only complete collection of the Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. also known as the Indian Group of Seven.

Another example is the constant effort to increase opportunities for cultural and spiritual practice which has currently paid off through the receipt of a grant to create a permanent smudging centre at the Lac La Biche Campus.  

“Greater than 45 per cent of our students are self-declared Indigenous. We also have many non-credit programs that occur within First Nations and Metis Communities that are not included in the self-declared numbers. This is a large percentage of our students compared to other post-secondaries, and we are proud to be serving these students. By bringing learning as close to their home communities as possible we remove the barriers associated with relocation which increases participation,” said Broadbent.

“We are honored to provide opportunities for all students and we are blessed to have so many partners working with us to create welcoming campuses that empower students to succeed.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connect Media. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.