Marlowe Dubois remembers feeling lost when he moved from his remote Cree community in western Canada to attend university in a big city. In his new role as Indigenous Student Advisor at First Peoples’ House (FPH), helping other Indigenous students make the adjustment to a different culture and a different pace of life is not only his number one priority, but a job he takes to heart.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan as a band member of the Ochapowace First Nation, Dubois arrived at McGill in 2016, earning his Bachelor of Education in 2021. First Peoples’ House was an important part of his undergrad experience.
“I was very confused by McGill’s very decentralized bureaucracy,” Dubois says, “Making moves to reach out to different services and people is not something I was accustomed to coming from a relatively tight-knit community. With the size of McGill, it can feel as if you’re suddenly in the middle of the ocean when you’re used to a smaller community. The advisors at FPH were very helpful in directing me towards resources and contacts that were useful to me in getting the help and connections I needed at different points during my undergrad.
“Making sure other students have that kind of safety net is the most important part of my role.”
A ‘home away from home’
A member of McGill Student Services, First Peoples’ House provides First Nations, Inuit and Métis students with a “home away from home,” where they can find support and encouragement to succeed in their studies and remain connected to their culture.
Since taking over the job as Indigenous Student Advisor in February 2022, Dubois has provided Indigenous students with a one-stop shop for key resources to make their lives easier – including strategies on course registration, exam preparation, and applying for financial aid, as well as in-house tutoring, and community and cultural support for students who feel disconnected from their cultures and communities. He has also been busy with planning and logistics work, including putting together a database of resources across Montreal for Indigenous students.
Another major part of his title is ensuring Indigenous students are aware of the resources FPH offers –which has been a challenge since the onset of COVID-19.
“Many students are dissuaded when everything we do is entirely virtual, and that face-to-face communication is lost,” Dubois says. “Also, it can be hard to keep up with the different restrictions that are in place, so many students may not know that we are taking drop-in appointments.
“Ultimately, the issue is to just let the Indigenous student body know that we are once again open for students to come visit us, be that to just make use of the space we have available or to take advantage of the different services and events we provide.
Cultural activities to return post-pandemic
As the pandemic loosens its grip on society – or so it’s hoped – Dubois will work with his colleagues and partners of FPH to plan and coordinate their different events, workshops, and outreach programs – many of which were disrupted or moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in that list of events is the annual Pow Wow, the organization’s most important event, which usually takes place in mid-September and features multi-tribal groups of dancers and drummers, arts and crafts, and other demonstrations of Indigenous culture. It was last held as an in-person event in 2019.
“Obviously, for the past few years, we haven’t had large-scale events, but going forward, we hope to be conducting more events to reach out to students and bring them in,” Dubois says.