The Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Centre, currently under construction to finish for summer 2014, will benefit the identities and educations of Aboriginal Peoples and solidify the bond between students who self-identify and those who do not.
Many Aboriginal Peoples have lived on First Nations reserves and some have never lived in a large urban centre like Saskatoon before. When these students do come to a post-secondary institution, they often hit a wall of confusion, loneliness and longing for the comforts of their home.
Too often students lose their culture and forget their teachings because they aren’t reminded of where they came from while attending university. When students from all cultures fail to see themselves being represented, they come to believe they are out of place.
The lack of First Nations, Metis and Inuit representation at the University of Saskatchewan can potentially explain their high dropout rates and has likely led to producing a fewer number of graduating students.
Even the current Aboriginal Students’ Centre is tucked away in the corner of Marquis Hall and has very little promotion. Students are often unaware of the help that is readily available to them.
Luckily, the rate of Aboriginal Peoples enrolling and declaring their status at the U of S has grown and is still rising. Though there has been an increase in the First Nations population at the university, their presence is often dismissed within the halls of the school.
When I began my first year at the U of S, I quickly realized I wasn’t surrounded by familiar faces and I rarely saw individuals that represented First Nations, Metis or Inuit communities.
I often felt lost and like I was not only representing my home but all Aboriginal Peoples. I had the constant feeling that I had to prove to everyone that I belonged at the U of S, which led me to feel I was carrying the world on my shoulders.
I had also observed an absence of indigenous identity within myself, until I was invited to a terribly small facility known as the ASC.
The ASC possesses a welcoming atmosphere filled with friendly faces and is known as a place of belonging for many First Nations students. Many find comfort through the opportunity to share their problems with others that they can culturally relate to.
By providing plenty of academic resources, information and support throughout a student’s academic career, the ASC provides a strong, foundational support system. Students can also find helpful workshops and groups that will allow them to ease into their new lifestyle as a university student.
The centre promotes the opportunity to learn more about the First Nations culture by providing opportunities to participate in traditional practices like sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies, prayers and discussions.
This cultural preservation at the ASC is important for the maintenance of the First Nations culture, which is dissolving into a forgotten heritage. The ASC strives to build a strong community and to make a connection with every student that walks through their door.
The Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Centre will present students with the opportunity to find continuous support throughout their schooling. An increase in space will allow the ASC to serve a growing population of First Nations, Metis and Inuit students — many of whom leave the current location due to lack of space. The new ASC site will also encourage university attendees to join the community that will flourish at the students’ centre.
The Indigenous Council’s Student Lounge is currently located in the lower level of McLean Hall, not at all close to the current ASC. Having both of these facilities under one roof will be utterly beneficial. The new ISC Student Lounge will allow students to take advantage of the computers, printers and studying areas while keeping their sense of comfort and well-being at the new facility.
At the new centre, traditional and cultural teachings will be available to both Aboriginal Peoples and students of other cultural heritages that would like to learn more about First Nations culture.
This improved cultural awareness of all students on campus will go a long way toward breaking down the stereotypes and ignorance related to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
Myself and fellow Aboriginal Peoples are at the U of S receiving higher educations because of past indigenous leaders who’ve broken down old barriers. With the building of this centre, it is now our duty to overcome the struggles that remain for the next generation.
Photo: University of Saskatchewan/flickr