Credit: Portage College

Alberta’s Portage College turns 50 this year. Founded in 1968, the post-secondary institution has come a long way, and it has a lot to celebrate.

The college has long been a resource of Indigenous Culture in the communities it serves. Over the past 50 years, the school has seen great success in its programs and events promoting diversity. Portage offers Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training, with more than a dozen courses and programs currently in place.

The programs were developed to educate people on Indigenous culture and its role in Canadian history.

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“We [Canadians] celebrate diversity and have since 1970, and put great efforts into recognizing that we are a culturally rich country. Yet, at the same time, we have a history of attacking, undermining, eroding, devaluing, and disrespecting Indigenous culture,” President and CEO of Portage College, Dr. Trent Keough.

Dr. Keough hopes to see those views change through proper education and awareness being taught at the college.

“Part of cultural sustainability is enabling people to maintain their practices, their rituals – their languages in particular – so they can share their richness and worldviews with other people,” explained Dr. Keough.

He says the school also works with disenfranchised Metis and First Nations people who need support.

“We know that the greatest remedy to poverty is education,” said Dr. Keough. “Our work has really been about working with one individual at a time and saying, ‘What are your life goals? What do you wish to accomplish?’ And then trying to tailor, as best we can, the services that we have so that the individual is able to attain that goal.”

And while he’s seen significant improvement over the years, Dr. Keough says there are still a lot of intolerance issues for Canadians to overcome.

“We started offering diversity training because our role was to give students the tools to be able to identify what would be discriminatory practices – racism, bigotry – and have them respond to those negative behaviours of others in a way that’s non-threatening, that gives that person the opportunity to reflect on that bad behaviour.

It’s these tools that the college wants everyone – not just Indigenous people – to take away from their time at the school.

“Empowering people and giving them those tools to be able to navigate in a culture that will be bigoted and will be discriminatory better empowers them and changes culture over the long term,” said Dr. Keough.

He’s happy to say he’s seen the programs’ success in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who have attended Portage College.

“The college has had a great impact on the health and wealth of the communities that it’s been serving. But that wellness really comes from the success of each individual who chooses to reside in the communities, so we see ourselves as part of that social infrastructure necessary to keep communities healthy,” said Dr. Trent Keough.

Dr. Trent Keough is clearly proud of Portage College and its 50 years of educating and spreading awareness for Indigenous culture – and he should be.

“I’ve noticed and come to appreciate the respect and the welcomeness that is given when we enable people to share their cultures and to recognize that all cultures are equal,” he said.

Learn more about the Portage College and its 5o year history, and watch the virtual campus tour below!

Written by Meaghan Willis