The University of Calgary's Native Ambassador Post-Secondary Initiative is in its tenth year. The goal of the program is to motivate and inspire Aboriginal youth to pursue post-secondary.
Senior NAPI ambassador Tessa Baily is from Teslin Tlingit First Nation in the Yukon and is in her third year at the U of C. When Baily came to the U of C she volunteered at the Native Centre located in MacHall. It was there she was asked to get involved in NAPI. Baily has been involved in the program for two years.
"It has enhanced my university career and push[es] me to want to become more," said Baily. "I've done a lot of things that I didn't think I would ever do, [NAPI] makes me push myself and have integrity as a leader."
Aboriginal students develop leadership skills by partaking in the NAPI program. It began as a small recruitment initiative out of the Native Centre in 2001 and after review, expanded in 2004.
"Once we got into the Aboriginal community and started working with Aboriginal youth, we realized very early on that a lot of our youth need more than just recruitment," said Native Centre Director Shawna Cunningham. "They needed more than information, they needed inspiration and encouragement."
To reach more Aboriginal youth aged 12-24 to pursue higher education, the NAPI program collaborated with Mount Royal University, SAIT, Bow Valley, the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District in 2004.
"We're seeing more Aboriginal students coming to U of C, and I'm sure other institutions are experiencing the same successes," said student advisor of Aboriginal programs and support Carole Tucker.
There are two components of the NAPI program: leadership training and educational outreach. In 2005, the NAPI program adapted the University of Calgary Student Leadership Program to provide ongoing training to NAPI ambassadors.
There are three levels of certification: Personal Leadership, Team Leadership and Community Leadership. The first two levels involve five modules each to empower and instil leadership skills within junior ambassadors. Once the Aboriginal youth reach the third level, they complete three modules and 20 hours of verified volunteering in a community or school-based setting, and become a senior ambassador.
"We use our NAPI ambassadors as a mode of inspirational presenters for the youth," said Tucker. "They talk about their experiences, their life history, and what brought them to education."
Educational outreach involves going to schools and career fairs both on and off reserves. On campus, Aboriginal students are encouraged to continue to upgrade and pursue further education.
"It is quite intimidating for students to come into the city to receive some of this information, but we're going to them for free, so it's helpful," said Tucker.
Money, transportation, lack of motivation and good role models are obstacles that Aboriginal youth face regarding education. The NAPI program addresses these barriers and helps youth overcome them.
"Usually kids come out of our program and teachers will say that they are a lot more outspoken and less shy," said Baily. "We're giving a voice to our youth."
Nexen, a sponsor of the NAPI program, hired two NAPI ambassadors this summer to do leadership training with Aboriginal youth throughout northern Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The outreach into Aboriginal communities was a success.
"Last year the program reached out to 4,222 Aboriginal youth," said Tucker. "It has the ability to expand even further, and that's the excitement about it."
Baily thinks it's a great program. "I hope it keeps running," she said.