More than 35 years ago, Cape Breton University collaborated with First Nations Elders and community leaders to create a unique Mi’kmaq educational portfolio. Today, the University is Atlantic Canada’s Leader in Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education. Cape Breton University has just over 3,400 students; with more than 300 First Nations students and an Aboriginal Alumni Family of more than 500. Cape Breton University has become a Canadian leader in delivering Aboriginal post-secondary education. In fact, the University has more Aboriginal students in absolute terms (not just per capita) than any other university in Atlantic Canada.

In 1998, the Mi’kmaq College Institute was established at Cape Breton University with the goal of assisting Aboriginal students with both their scholastic and personal needs. It also aimed to create a knowledge centre in which collaboration and sharing on matters of mutual concern could take place between researchers and educators, university faculty and Aboriginal communities.

In 2006, the University established a task force to review 30 years of Aboriginal education at the University in the broad context of Atlantic Canada. The discussions and community consultations that took place formed the basis for the transformation of the Mi’kmaq College Institute into Unama’ki College of Cape Breton University. The overall mission of Unama’ki College is to promote and enhance excellence in Aboriginal education, research and scholarship for Aboriginal people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, in collaboration between Unama’ki College and Aboriginal people.

In 2010-11, Unama’ki College is offering courses in six communities: Eskasoni, Chapel Island, Waycobah, Wagmatcook, Millbrook and Indianbrook. Faculty members teaching Mi’kmaq Studies and Integrative Science courses in those communities now have a home in which the distinctive needs of students and faculty in these courses can be addressed.

The Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies will draw from and expand upon the successful First Nations economic models from across the country including the Membertou Community with its record of financial accountability and sound management practices. Chief Terry Paul, Chief of the Membertou First Nations community in his 26th consecutive year as leader, sits on the Shannon Advisory Board and has contributed to the guidelines and parameters for this initiative.

With established partnerships, scientific research, sound programming, dedicated faculty, national recognition and successful graduates, Cape Breton University’s contributions toward Aboriginal learning are seen as responsive and forward looking.