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Ontario launches ads urging aboriginals to 'Break Own Trail' and go to college

TORONTO – Ontario’s aboriginal students were urged to “Break Your Own Trail” and embark on a college education in a multimedia marketing campaign launched Monday.

An advocacy group representing Ontario’s 24 colleges kicked off the $400,000 advertising campaign at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto with song and a spiritual prayer.

The Ontario government has set a goal of having 70 per cent of students go on to post secondary education.

But Linda Franklin, president of Colleges Ontario, said just over 12 per cent of aboriginal students in the province go to college and only 2.8 per cent head to university.

It’s hoped the print, radio and poster campaign will change that. But getting aboriginal students to leave their close-knit communities can be difficult, she said.

“Aboriginal students are very community focused … to get them to travel distances to go to post-secondary education is a challenge,” said Franklin.

Aboriginal publications and radio stations will carry the ads this month and next, and again in the fall.

Posters will also be sent to band offices, friendship centres and schools, and ads will be posted on websites students might visit.

Belinda Sayeau, who’s from Red Lake, Ont., works at the First Nations Centre at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., where she graduated as a mature student in November.

She questioned whether the $400,000 would be quickly eaten up by ad agencies, but otherwise called the campaign amazing.

“I think it’s very contemporary looking,” she said.

“I think our young indigenous youth would probably look at that and go, ‘You know what what is that about?’ and be interested in it, and that’s what I really hope for,” said Sayeau.

It’s important for students considering post-secondary education to see success stories of other students from their communities, she said.

Sayeau considers herself one of those success stories. After dropping out in her second year at Thunder Bay’s Confederation College in 1993, she spent years in low-paying jobs before going back to college. The move has paid off, she said.

“That’s the reality of having that college education. I have a job. It’s not a temporary job, it’s a full-time job,” she said.

Aboriginal students face a number of obstacles in getting higher education, she said.

“You’ve got geographical issues, you’ve also possibly a language barrier to deal with, you may have a lack of support in the city,” said Sayeau.

According to the 2006 census, 26 per cent of the aboriginal population had obtained a college diploma or certificate.

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy, who was also at the launch, said aboriginals are under-represented at the college level and it’s a key priority for the government to reach out to them.

“We need everyone at their best and as a society, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind,” said Milloy.

“Part of it is ensuring that they have the knowledge of the opportunities available.”

The province has committed $26.4 million a year toward supporting aboriginal post-secondary education, said Milloy.

In March, the government launched a new aboriginal policy and training framework.

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