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A week at the Indigenous Student Mini-University Summer Camp: an immersive experience for Indigenous youth

Two young women are making silly faces and laughing, while sitting on a grey bus seat. There are other people around them not in focus.

Beyond what’s depicted in movies or stories told by older siblings, cousins and their friends, it can be hard for high school students to imagine what life in university is really like. Giving Indigenous youth a taste of this experience is the goal of the Indigenous Student Mini-University Summer Camp, affectionately known as Mini-U.  

A group of mini-u campers talking to one another sitting in the Ceremonial Hall.
Mini-U participants in the Ceremonial Hall in First Peoples House on their first day of camp.

For one week each summer, UVic’s classrooms, dorms and outdoor spaces host some younger-than-usual visitors from all over BC and the Northwest Territories. A week full of academic, creative, cultural, and social activities provides an immersive opportunity for participants to see for themselves what attending UVic would be like. Mini-U is led and hosted by the Office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement (IACE)

Outside the Ceremonial Hall, students are inside getting and eating food sitting at tables.
To start the week off in a good way with good hearts and good minds, Mini-U invites an Elder to open with a welcome and a prayer.

Registration is open to students of Indigenous ancestry in grades 9-12 from across BC. Thanks to the generous support of two anonymous donors, all expenses including travel, accommodation, meals, activities, and staffing are covered. This significant support exemplifies Mini-U's commitment to removing barriers that could impede students' access to higher education.  

A student wearing a yellow mini-U hoodie is picking wild blueberries from a bush.
A Mini-U participant makes an offering back to the land for the blueberries used to dye the hand drum hides.

Faculties, departments and community members prepare and deliver a wide range of workshops and activities on and off campus. Through engaging academic sessions intended to spark curiosity, students get to explore areas to potentially study further in the future. Last year, campers took part in community-engaged learning in the faculty of Law, Science, and the Gustavson School of Business.  

Students meet with UVic staff and faculty in the Ceremonial Hall, sitting at tables, a sign reads "Indigenous Student Support Coordinators" beside participant.
Mid-week, campers attended a career and education fair in the Ceremonial Hall where they learned about opportunities and job prospects from various areas and faculties across campus.

Designed to provide a holistic and realistic experience, Mini-U balances academic and cultural sessions with tons of fun – like climbing at CARSA, a water fight on the lawn, and an evening karaoke/talent show! Participants explored the greater Victoria area, visiting downtown, the Royal BC Museum, Sooke Potholes, and Whiffin Spit. They also had lunch at Tsawout First Nation to learn more about the local W̱SÁNEĆ culture.  

A group of students and one chaperone sit in a gymnasium at tables and chairs, two of them are playing with water fans while others watch and laugh.
“It was really awesome to see culturally grounded activities/traditional skills being passed on and carrying the participants through their grad ceremony here at Mini-U.” - Mini-U 2023 Chaperone

Connecting with one’s heritage and fostering a sense of identity and belonging is foundational for Indigenous students at UVic. During Mini-U, roughly half of the activities are held in the Ceremonial Hall, familiarizing campers with resources and supports available through First Peoples House and the Native Students Union. Two favourite cultural workshops involved campers making their own drums and ribbon jackets/shirts, which they were gifted at the graduation ceremony at the end of the week. 

A student in a yellow hoodie is smiling into the distance while holding a wooden hand drum frame.
“My favourite workshop was making the drums because I got to experience drum making for the first time and I got to learn about everyone.” – Mini-U Camper

Since its inception in 2008, the Mini-U Summer Camp has made a significant impact, with a total of 315 students participating from grades 9-12. Among these participants, 36 students have either attended or are currently enrolled at UVic, demonstrating the program's effectiveness in not only exposing students to the university experience but also in directly contributing to their pursuit of higher education. This statistic is an example of the program's success in inspiring and guiding students towards their academic goals, while also highlighting its long-term influence on their educational journeys.  

A large group of mini-U students and chaperones smile for the camera in the Ceremonial Hall; many are holding dyed hand drums and there's a grey indoor triangle fire pit in front of them.
New friends, new memories, and new dreams are made at Mini-U!