Building Reconciliation

Report on Our Progress, 2016

What follows is an abridged version of the Building Reconciliation report. You can also read the entire report.

President's Message

At the University of Saskatchewan we have made building reconciliation an institutional priority and we have committed ourselves to living up to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. In so doing, we hope to become the best place we can be for Indigenous students and their communities in this province and beyond.

We are a university where inquiry, innovation and diversity are of the utmost importance, so we have the onus and opportunity to rethink how we go about our core missions of learning, discovery and community engagement to fully incorporate the principle of reconciliation. Moreover, it is imperative that we do. 

One report could not hope to capture all of the work being done at the U of S, but it does cover some of the highlights as we work to build a brighter future for all. 

Peter Stoicheff

Our framework at the U of S

In November 2015, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) hosted the inaugural Building Reconciliation national forum—a time when university and Indigenous leaders gathered to develop strategies on how universities can best fulfil the calls to action placed on everyone in the country.

Through the leadership of the Office of the Vice-Provost of Teaching and Learning, we compiled and enacted a framework to advance reconciliation in the areas of teaching and learning, research, student experience and governance and structures. 

We’re building a sense of community.

In February 2016, the U of S officially opened the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre, an intercultural gathering place for the entire university community. 

Since the grand opening, the centre has brought together the teachings, traditions and cultures of the peoples of Saskatchewan and it has been dedicated to the academic and personal success of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students. The centre has been—and will continue to be—a place for students to connect with one another, access campus supports and participate in ceremony.

We’re building an inclusive university.

The student population at the U of S has been changing as we attract and retain students to our university community. Our Indigenous student population has grown significantly over the years as more and more students decide to make the U of S their school of choice.

We’re building with the help of community.

In February 2016, the U of S signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) to provide access to and awareness of the information gathered during the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This partnership helps researchers, students and the wider university community access materials.

From the national forum it was clear that more research needs to be engaged in communities and responding to the needs of communities. Over the past year, many research projects at the U of S have demonstrated this approach, such as: 

  • A research team at the U of S has demonstrated that Indigenous children in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were at a healthy weight when they entered residential schools, information that contrasts with claims made by the government during that time. Throughout the study, researchers consulted Indigenous communities and leaders for advice, and they reached out following the study regarding next steps and the proper sharing of the knowledge.
  • The 2016 Delta Days were a time for researchers, government, community organizations, youth and Elders to discuss how to preserve the deltas and delta communities, identify issues of concern to delta residents, and increase collaboration amongst all parties.
  • A new research centre pairs students with community organizations to help them meet their research needs. Students work with First Nations and local community groups to reinforce the idea that universities can serve the communities in which they exist, while teaching students to think beyond the classroom.
  • An interdisciplinary research team is working with northern communities to discover new ways to overcome challenges and seize opportunities. The researchers are engaging a wide range of community members in the research process to explore how entrepreneurship can help communities meet the needs and aspirations of the local people.

We’re building programs that meet the needs of students.

In January 2016, the U of S officially endorsed the principle that Indigenous knowledges and content should be included in all of our degree programs. Work to achieve this is ongoing, but progress is already being made.

For example, the Kanawayihetaytan Askiy (Cree for “let us take care of the land”) certificate is a unique program focused on examining environmental, legal and economic aspects of land and resource management in Indigenous communities.

In 2016, two diploma options became available to further students’ understanding of Aboriginal governance and land management. These diplomas were developed in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous communities. This approach helps to ensure students are being given information that is relevant and meets the needs of First Nations, fostering success of both students and communities.

Call to action #28 stresses the importance of law schools requiring all students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, Aboriginal-Crown relations and Indigenous legal systems. In 2016, the College of Law committed itself to implementing this call to action. Currently, a team of faculty members in the college is looking at how best to do this to ensure that students are engaging in these issues properly and fully achieving the goals of the call to action.

We’re building our ability to deliver success.

This past year the U of S announced that a new position was being created: a vice-provost Indigenous engagement. This senior position will work in partnership with other leaders at the U of S to collaboratively deliver on commitments relating to Indigenous student success, scholarship and community engagement.

The U of S has also made significant strides in employing more Indigenous people. In 2016 the Aboriginal Career Start program was launched to provide graduates of some of our partner institutions paid work placements at the U of S. This provided these graduates with training, experience and professional guidance and mentorship to help advance their careers, whether they continued at the U of S or pursued opportunities elsewhere.

Call to action #92 speaks to the importance of providing employees with personal and professional development opportunities on anti-racism, intercultural learning and Métis, First Nations and Inuit histories.

The U of S offers Indigenous Voices programming to faculty and staff to do just this. Indigenous Voices stimulates dialogue, encourages learning and supports collaborative action in building reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Over the past year, the Indigenous Voices program provided presentations to over 800 people, participated in over 50 meetings with colleges and schools to discuss incorporating Indigenous content into programming and had approximately 80 one-on-one meetings with instructors on teaching Indigenous content. 

We’re building to have a lasting impact.

The U of S is dedicated to offering students the opportunity to gain a university education in select fields without having to ever come to the main campus in Saskatoon.

As a demonstration of this commitment, in 2016 the College of Law announced a partnership with Nunavut Arctic College and the Government of Nunavut. This partnership allows students to get a law degree in Iqaluit.

Call to action #16 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada stresses the importance of post-secondary institutions having programming in Indigenous languages. 

The U of S offers the Indigenous Languages Certificate in the College of Education. This two-year program leads to full immersion in an Indigenous language and an understanding of how to teach the language. The Cree program is currently is very popular among students, and a Michif program is being developed that will strengthen the college’s language offerings.

Furthermore, in 2016 the U of S partnered with the University of Victoria to offer a Master’s in Indigenous Language Revitalization. Students in this program are learning to lead language revitalization efforts.

We’re building a healthier world.

Call to action #23 addresses the need to increase the number of Indigenous professionals in healthcare fields. 

In the 2015/2016 academic year, the College of Nursing achieved their goal of having an undergraduate student population that matched the demographics of Saskatchewan in terms of Indigenous representation: over 17 per cent of students self-declared as Aboriginal, a number that is expected to continue to grow.

Additionally, the College of Medicine currently has 30 self-declared Aboriginal students enrolled in the medical degree program, and this past spring the college graduated a record number of Indigenous students.

Call to action #24 calls upon nursing and medical schools to educate students in Indigenous health and the legacy of residential schools. Thus far, we have committed to building a curriculum that is respectfully inclusive of Indigenous worldviews and to strengthening our recruitment and retention of Indigenous students in various health science colleges of the U of S.

Call to action #23 also speaks to the importance of providing these educational opportunities to those already working in healthcare fields. The U of S recently launched an online class available to all healthcare providers in Saskatchewan. The interactive course covers self-reflection, historical issued faced by Indigenous peoples and how to create an inclusive healthcare environment.

We're building reconciliation.

At the University of Saskatchewan, we’re working toward a better future for all. As Senator Murray Sinclair said when he spoke at our national forum in 2015: “Education is the key to reconciliation—at all levels.”

There is much work that remains for the U of S, but we remain committed to continually improving Indigenous student success, to fostering meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and to advancing Indigenous scholarship.

We invite you to connect with us so you can discover more ways that the U of S is addressing the calls to action placed on everyone in this country.

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