At the University of Saskatchewan, we’re taking great strides to play our part in reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Because of the determination and knowledges of our faculty, staff, students and community, the U of S is poised to help lead Canadian post-secondary institutions in one of the most pressing issues of our time. Together with Indigenous nations and organizations, we are working to become the best place that we possibly can be for Indigenous students and their communities.
Using the framework of reconciliation and the TRC’s calls to action, we are building on our ongoing commitments surrounding Indigenous scholarship, student success and community engagement. For many years, as the U of S has been planning and preparing for the future of our institution, we have made these issues priorities. This can be seen in the strategic directions of the U of S, the Aboriginal initiatives foundational document and the results of the integrated planning processes of the university. This renewed focus on reconciliation has led to the core focus of eliminating the education gap.
At the Building Reconciliation national forum, several key themes emerged:
- The time for action is now. Allies are everywhere and the national agenda has shifted to make this an ideal time to bring about change. Still, patience is needed as real and sustained change will take years.
- The change in our institutions must be change to the core; change must be long-term and sustainable.
- Concrete resources are required to make change happen and metrics need to be in place to measure progress in tangible ways.
- Although the work of changing institutions belongs to everyone, with everyone playing a part, Indigenous faculty and administrators are critical to bringing Indigenous viewpoints into post-secondary institutions. Collaboration with Indigenous peoples is required at every step—exemplifying the meaning behind, 'nothing about us without us.'
- It is vital that Indigenous students are able to see themselves in our institutions—in our people, in our spaces and in our values.
For more on what the U of S was able to learn from the national forum, please read the forum report.
Although more conversations and learning are necessary, the national forum in Nov. of 2015 gave the U of S a strong mandate to move forward on certain key issues in making reconciliation a key part of the university’s goals and operations. What follows is a non-comprehensive list of the university’s current initiatives that respond to the TRC’s calls to action for all Canadians.
Teaching and Learning
Several key themes emerged from the national forum hosted by the U of S which are helping to guide the university going forward. We know that post-secondary institutions need to alter curricular requirements in programming offered to all students. To do so, post-secondary educational institutions must invest in changes and work together, sharing expertise and best practices.
Indigenous Content in Program Curricula
With the endorsement of the undergraduate University Students’ Council, the academic governing body of the U of S agreed to incorporate Indigenous knowledges and experiences into all degree programs. There is a three-step plan in process to begin this substantial undertaking:
- The teaching, learning and academic resources committee of University Council is reviewing the university’s Learning Charter to ensure that it meets this ambitious goal. The Learning Charter defines the aspirations of the university regarding the anticipated learning experiences of graduates and the roles of students, instructors and the institution in achieving this. Amending the Learning Charter demonstrates a strong commitment in what the university expects of academic programming.
- An environmental scan is being undertaken on all academic programs offered in our colleges and schools to figure out where there are gaps and successes in achieving the goal of incorporating Indigenous content into program curricula. These data can be used to recognize the different ways this work is currently being done at the U of S and will help identify best practices.
- After this scan is complete, collaborative work with all colleges and schools will help to develop strategies and action plans for implementing the necessary substantive changes into program offerings.
Changing the First-Year Law Experience
The College of Law is exploring options to alter the mandatory first-year curriculum for all students in the Juris Doctor program. Call to action #28 requires “all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law,” and a team of faculty members in the college is currently looking at how best to do this. These curricular changes, expected to be implemented in fall of 2017, are happening alongside a renewal of the Native Law Centre and the hiring of a cultural advisor within the dean’s office.
Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work
The forum also highlighted some ways in which the research mission of the university could be improved as it relates to Indigenous peoples. The value of community-engaged research must be properly recognized and the needs of communities and nations must be prioritized. Establishing partnerships with communities and collaboration between post-secondary educational institutions are some ways to go about improving in this area.
Advancing Aboriginal Peoples Signature Area
One of the university’s identified signature areas is Aboriginal peoples: engagement and scholarship. In this area, the U of S is identifying what research is being conducted and with whom so we can identify strengths and gaps. We are working to recognize and celebrate this work so internal and external audiences are aware of the knowledge we are generating.
Partnership with the NCTR
Under the leadership of the University Library, the U of S has created a partnership with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, an archive of information based out of the University of Manitoba. This partnership will provide opportunities for researchers and students to access the five million electronic statements, documents and other materials collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission throughout the course of its work.
The students’ views at the Building Reconciliation forum and the concerns and ideas that are raised by U of S students are helping to guide the U of S in being a more welcoming place for Indigenous students. From the forum, it was clear that future and current Indigenous students need to be able to see themselves at post-secondary institutions. This can be achieved through ensuring that there are Indigenous role models and scholars, creating spaces for Indigenous students and groups and removing accessibility barriers.
The U of S, through the work of the Promise and Potential: The Third Integrated Plan, has set the following targets for Aboriginal student enrolment and retention rates:
- 15 per cent of undergraduate students
- nine per cent of graduate students
- increase the first- to second-year retention rate by 10 per cent in direct-entry programs
The U of S is committed to expanding the array of achievement and enrichment programs in direct-entry programs for Indigenous students, such as the Aboriginal Student Achievement Program in the College of Arts and Science. Programs like these can help foster a sense of community, ease the transition to university life and provide personalized advising and support services. The U of S has seen evidence that programming that brings first-year students together with upper-year mentors is linked with academic success, so this programming must be expanded and improved for Indigenous students.
Accessibility to post-secondary education can be impeded by a variety of factors. The U of S is working to address these by setting aside certain childcare spaces for Indigenous students and developing a more robust orientation to university life for Indigenous students. Using RibbonTool, we can detect trajectories with self-declared Aboriginal students to identify issues and propose potential solutions.
Governance and Administration
The final thematic area that was covered in the Building Reconciliation national forum was on how university governance and administrative structures could be realigned or reimagined to better support Indigenous leadership and to ensure Indigenous ways of knowing are present at all level of the university. During the forum, some key themes in this area were: Indigenous initiatives must be supported by senior leaders, leadership positions must be created to advance Indigenous engagement and institutions must hold themselves accountable in achieving success in reconciliation.
Closing the Education Gap
At the beginning of the National Forum, U of S President Peter Stoicheff announced that the U of S and the 23 other post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to close the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. The agreement, citing the importance of building reconciliation, is the first province-wide agreement of its kind in Canada.
The U of S has recently hired a diversity and inclusion consultant and an Indigenous recruitment specialist to work in human resources to increase the diversity and representativeness of the U of S workforce. Diversity language is now included on job postings and work is being done to counteract potential biases of hiring committees. Targets for self-declared Indigenous faculty and post-doctoral fellows are being developed, along with funding to make these changes a reality. This progress will be tracked by an upcoming self-declaration campaign. Additionally, the U of S has launched the Aboriginal Career Start program, a partnership with the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and the Gabriel Dumont Institute. This program provides a stepping stone for their Aboriginal graduates to a long-term career at the U of S and elsewhere.
Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement
The vice-provost, Indigenous engagement works alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in and outside of the University to achieve the academic mission of the university, broadly intersecting with such areas as governance, teaching, learning and student experience, and research. In addition, the vice-provost, Indigenous engagement provides the guidance and leadership necessary to engage students, faculty, and staff so that members of the University, as a whole, see themselves working towards and contributing to Indigenization and Reconciliation initiatives as identified in the University vision, mission and values statements and the emerging University Plan.
MOU with the College of Medicine
The College of Medicine has partnered with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority to work toward fulfilling the health-related calls to action of the TRC. The memorandum of understanding committed the partners to “working together to improve health services for the members and communities of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and all people of northern Saskatchewan.” Northern Medical Services, which is part of the College of Medicine, is the main employer of physicians in northern Saskatchewan and the college also offers a clinical elective that provides students the opportunity to learn Indigenous medicine from elders and healers.