Gordon Oakes Red Bear
Gordon Oakes Red Bear was a spiritual and community leader who guided many in his community and across Saskatchewan. He was born in 1932 in what is now the Nekaneet First Nation and passed away in early 2002.
Oakes believed in Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working together for each other’s mutual benefit, using the analogy of a team of horses pulling together and living in balance to impart this teaching. Because he held a strong belief in education and honouring one’s culture and traditions, this building is named in his memory.
Gordon Oakes Red Bear served as the Chief of the Nekaneet First Nation from 1958 to 1962 and again from 1970 to 1992. Throughout this time he worked passionately for Treaty Land Entitlement until it was finally adopted by the province. Oakes also sat at the Treaty Tables within the Treaty Governance Processes of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. In all of this work, he helped shape the understanding of the treaty relationship as it exists in Saskatchewan.
As an Elder, Gordon Oakes served as a board member of the Wanuskewin Heritage Park. Through his work he also helped bring to fruition the eventual placement of the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge in the Cypress Hills. He created the Treaty 4 flag, which is now used by Treaty 4 First Nations as a symbol of connectedness.
The design of the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre was envisioned by Douglas Cardinal and RBM Architects. Cardinal is an internationally renowned architect of Métis and Blackfoot heritage and is a forerunner in philosophies of sustainability, green buildings and ecological design in community planning.
Cardinal’s architecture is inspired by his observations of nature and grounded within his cultural beliefs. Other examples of Cardinal’s work include the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec; First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan; and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Two rows of inlayed tile that encircle the building represent a wampum belt, which is symbolic of treaties between Indigenous peoples and newcomers on the land that would later become Canada. At each of the four cardinal directions, the colour of the tiles changes to represent each of the four seasons: south (summer, red), east (spring, yellow), west (autumn, charcoal), and north (winter, white).
The central gathering area can be used for ceremonial smudging and pipe ceremonies. A large exhaust fan is hidden within the high ceiling, and the fan's exterior vents are aligned with the four cardinal directions. Being connected to the earth is important during ceremony, so soil was taken from the building's excavation and was placed within a large concrete cylinder in the basement of the building, connecting the gathering space to the ground beneath.