Building capacity and community at the graduate level for Indigenous students

UBC’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) office is excited to provide an update on several initiatives aimed at supporting Indigenous graduate students at UBC.

In 2020, UBC launched its new Indigenous Strategic Plan, and became the first university in North America to commit to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Demonstrating this commitment, and in alignment with the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) (Re)conciliation Task Force Report (2022) and calls to action, G+PS is working on several initiatives with the goal of building capacity and community for Indigenous students at UBC Vancouver. These initiatives include the Pathways to Graduate School workshops, the redevelopment of the Indigenous Graduate Fellowship, and the Indigenous Graduate Summer Institute. Each of these initiatives illustrate how Truth and Reconciliation can be advanced in graduate studies.

The Pathways to Graduate School workshops provide information on applying to graduate school and funding opportunities, faculty and peer mentorship, and networking. The sessions also offer culturally safe spaces to discuss the admission and funding process directly with graduate academic support and awards staff.

The reimagined and redeveloped Indigenous Graduate Fellowship expands the eligibility requirements to include full-time professional and course-based programs, and offers two new streams in recognition of the significant community engagement and resource intensive work undertaken in Indigenous graduate research.

The Indigenous Graduate Summer Institute was piloted in July 2022 in collaboration with the Office of Indigenous Education, Faculty of Education through the SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement) program. The summer institute brings together prospective, newly admitted and current Indigenous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in an immersive one-week exploration of graduate studies, graduate research, and Indigenous excellence at UBC.

The Indigenous Graduate Summer Institute provides a culturally safe community to network, learn about graduate and community resources, and participate in interactive student professional development workshops on designing one’s graduate school journey, supervisory relationships, scholarly writing, academic publishing, and career exploration. A foundational part of the summer institute is connecting students to Musqueam First Nation, and connecting graduate research to land, language, culture and community. Last year, students also participated in a decolonization campus tour, visited the Museum of Anthropology where they learned about the Indigitization program, spent a day in a science lab discussing research development and data sovereignty, as well as had the opportunity to make their own hand drum.

“The vision for the overall goals pertaining to the program are rooted in community building and making space for Indigenous graduate students at UBC. Quite often Indigenous students have a hard time building community inside of the academy,” says Tarene Thomas, the 2022 Indigenous Graduate Summer Institute Student Coordinator, and recent graduate in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at UBC.

“This becomes an even greater challenge at the graduate level, as many of these students are the only Indigenous students inside of their programs, which for obvious reasons can be very isolating and lonely. By creating opportunities like this for Indigenous students at the graduate level, we are not only elevating the standard of excellence for Indigenous students, we are adding to the overall students experience by creating space for community building between Indigenous scholars which is imperative to overall student success.”

More than 15 students participated in the institute, with many noting that the cultural experiences and workshops helped get them ready for campus life in the fall. “Gathering, touring and learning together was so incredible,” said one participant. Another noted that “seeing other Indigenous graduate students” really solidified that UBC was a welcoming place for them.

UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) has received funding for an additional two years of programming from UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (ISI) fund. Through this funding, Tarene is moving into her new role as the Coordinator of Indigenous Graduate Initiatives at UBC Vancouver, working alongside Rebecca Jules, Specialist of Indigenous Graduate Initiatives.

G+PS is excited to announce registration for the 2023 Indigenous Graduate Summer Institute is now open. For more information on the institute, including how to apply, visit the Summer Institute page.

Community partners or UBC units wanting to participate in the Summer Institute can contact Tarene Thomas, Coordinator, Indigenous Graduate initiatives at

Monday, 08 May 2023