Attracting more First Nations, Métis and Inuit scholars and learners is the purpose of a new University of Guelph project believed to be the most comprehensive initiative of its kind in Ontario.

The University will hire five tenure-track aboriginal faculty members across the disciplines. Recruitment for all five positions will begin shortly, and the new professors are expected to join U of G over the next six to 18 months.

“This initiative will help the University transform its learning environment and further enhance our existing student support,” said Charlotte Yates, provost and vice-president (academic).

“We expect they will pursue new lines of research inquiry and inspire future generations of scholars.”

The University will also create five new graduate awards for aboriginal scholars — worth $30,000 a year for PhD students and $15,000 a year for master’s students — and a new $45,000 post-doctoral award for an aboriginal researcher.

“This project will increase knowledge creation by aboriginal scholars and encourage training of the next generation of scholars,” Yates said, adding that attracting and supporting aboriginal students and researchers will benefit individual students and the entire campus.

U of G will also expand undergraduate research opportunities for aboriginal students, create an aboriginal artist-in-residence program and help sponsor the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Toronto in 2017.

Last fall’s report of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a call to action by universities and to equitable access to post-secondary education, Yates said.

Reconciliation means recognizing contributions of aboriginal people to “ways of knowing” and supporting aboriginal educators, students and their communities, she added.

Nationwide, about seven per cent of aboriginal adults have a university degree, compared to 21 per cent for non-aboriginal people (nine and 23 per cent, respectively, in Ontario), according to Statistics Canada.

She added that the new initiative builds on U of G’s commitment to improving student access to university and support for aboriginal learners.

Researchers from across campus already work with numerous aboriginal communities in Canada, including three faculty members funded by U of G and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

Inspiring aboriginal youth to pursue higher education is the goal of a Council of Ontario Universities “Future Further” campaign and working group whose members include Cara Wehkamp, manager of U of G’s Office of Intercultural Affairs in Student Life, home to the Aboriginal Resource Centre.

The centre received the 2014 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators – Indigenous Peoples Knowledge Community award for Outstanding Student Support.