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A woman speaking at a podium with a star blanket behind her and a panel of speakers beside her, sitting at a table.

The inaugural New Buffalo Education Gathering, November 2023.

UM hosts first ever New Buffalo Education Gathering

An Open House for rural and northern Indigenous students

November 27, 2023 — 

On Friday, Nov. 17th, the University of Manitoba’s Indigenous Student Recruitment and Community Relations (ISRCR) team launched its first ever Open House for rural and northern Indigenous students and welcomed prospective Indigenous youth and adults from northern, rural and urban communities to come and explore post-secondary education at UM.

Director of Indigenous Student Recruitment and Community Relations Desiree Morrisseau-Keesick (she/her), says the event was a huge success.

“Our goal was to create an event where prospective Indigenous students could have an experience that allowed them to visualize themselves as members of the vibrant Indigenous community that exists here at UM,” says Morrisseau-Keesick.

The University hosts two successful recruitment open house events each year. But with attendance ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 people, those events can be a scary and overwhelming experience for students coming from smaller communities. It was important to the ISRCR team to host something smaller and more intimate for prospective Indigenous students.

“Feedback we’ve received from Indigenous youth that have attended these events in the past is that they feel like they don’t belong and often leave without any plans to apply,” says Morrisseau-Keesick. “This Indigenous-focused event gives students, families and community members the opportunity to explore our campus in a more mindful and thoughtful way and demonstrates our respect for their needs and concerns.”

Funded through the Indigenous Initiatives Fund (IIF), the inaugural New Buffalo Education Gathering welcomed more than 200 prospective UM students. In the future, the ISRCR team hopes to expand the event, but would cap attendance at no more than 500 participants.

Morrisseau-Keesick said initial feedback from the event has been positive.

Professional headshot of a woman with long dark hair, smiling at the camera, wearing a grey shirt.

Desiree Morrisseau-Keesick

“One student approached the welcome table to share the concerns and anxiety they had about post-secondary education,” says Morrisseau-Keesick. “The student also thanked our team and shared that their experience at the event helped convince them to apply to UM.”

The ISRCR team received messages of support from several teachers that attended the event with their students, including one teacher from Cross Lake who emailed Morrisseau-Keesick directly to say that the experience was ‘inspiring and eye-opening’ for students.

Faculties at the Open House were asked to staff their booths with Indigenous scholars and/or Indigenous support staff so prospective students could hear directly from the Indigenous peoples paving the way for them.

On-campus housing tours showed future students where they would be living if they chose that route. There were presentations on how to re-locate to an urban setting for school and the resources in place for support, as well as a presentation on financial literacy and preparing to live on your own.

“This annual event is a place where prospective students can get all their questions answered and concerns addressed, and where they will be surrounded by other Indigenous students from all different nations, ages, and experiences,” says Morrisseau-Keesick.

As for the name of the event, during a planning session Morrisseau-Keesick and her team recalled how they’ve heard many times from Elders, Knowledge Keepers and other family members that “education is the new Buffalo”.

“Growing up my Kookum, Laverne Morrisseau, made sure that all her children and grandchildren knew how important education was and how it would help us in life,” says Morrisseau-Keesick. “Just like how the Buffalo sustained us as a people and community, education was going to do the same for us now. And thus came, ‘the New Buffalo Education Gathering’.”

When asked what she would say to students that are overwhelmed with the idea of pursuing post-secondary education, Morrisseau-Keesick says this:

“For the student that is overwhelmed because they don’t know where to start or have a million questions but don’t know what to ask, we see you and we hear you. You are not alone. Your experience is valid and incredibly common. We want you to come out to this event so that you can slowly begin to acquaint yourself with the University campus, get your questions answered, build connections and learn more about your potential next steps. When you are ready, we (ISRCR) will be here to support you.”

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