A group of 25 indigenous women from Mexico has had a unique opportunity to learn about First Nations culture and practice their English at the University of Lethbridge this summer.
They are spending five weeks in Canada through a program organized by the Council for Science and Technology in the State of Quintana Roo (COQCYT) and funded by the National Council of Science and Technology of the United Mexican States (CONACYT).
“It is a government program for indigenous girls who want to study for a master’s degree,” says Yajaira Vianey May Xool, one of the students participating in the program. “We are learning about the Blackfoot culture, about their life, traditional food, stories, histories and dance. At the same time we are practicing the English language.”
Cinthia Interian, another student in the program, and Xool majored in Language and Culture studies at University Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo. They both want to pursue master’s degrees and Xool will be attending Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (UADY) in Merida, Yucatan in August.
While in Lethbridge, they are staying with local families and have visited local sites such as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, the Galt Museum, Henderson Lake, and Waterton Lakes National Park. They performed a traditional Mayan dance at the recent Kainai Powwow.
“My experience in Canada is important to me because I have the opportunity to improve my English, my pronunciation, and also to learn about the Blackfoot culture. I have learned about other points of view and seeing the world in other ways that I can share when I go back home,” says Xool.
“My experience here in Canada has been great. I visited many places and I have met wonderful people in my stay here. This is a unique opportunity and every one of my classmates is enjoying their stay,” says Interian. “I want to give thanks for my teachers and the people who made this exchange possible, for this experience, and all the learning and knowledge we got.”
The partnership agreement between the University of Lethbridge and the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico was formed in 2014. The initiative came about as a result of the U of L’s involvement with a consortium of 10 indigenous universities in Mexico and several undergraduate universities in Canada that focus on aboriginal education. The U of L has had a close relationship with the Mayan University in Quintana Roo and has set up student exchange and co-operative work-study agreements.