On Feb. 2 at the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre, University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff and Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding, formalizing and cementing a commitment to the learning outcomes of the university’s Indigenous students.
Building on responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action and previous agreements to support Indigenous students with the 23 other Saskatchewan post-secondary institutions, this MOU defines a framework for continuous and meaningful dialogue, in which the university president will meet with the FSIN assembly once a year and present a strategy to improve learning outcomes.
Conversely, the chief of the FSIN will come to the university at least once a year to present and discuss strategies with larger university committees, such as the Board of Governors, University Senate and University Council, all of which have student representatives.
Stoicheff explains that the agreement may be best understood as a commitment to hearing input and ensuring future co-operation between the two organizations.
“The university wants to do its best for its Aboriginal students, and to do that we need a lot of advice and information … It would be presumptuous to think that we could do that on our own,” Stoicheff said.
In response to the TRC’s Call to Action, the U of S has committed itself to raising Indigenous student enrollment and retention, with targets of 15 per cent enrollment in undergraduate programs and nine per cent in graduate programs, as well as an increased graduation rate by the year 2020. By signing this memorandum with the FSIN, the university is also affirming that Indigenous voices matter and need to be represented and heard throughout the institution.
Dallas Fiddler, Indigenous Students’ Council president, has already noticed benefits from agreements like the MOU at the university.
“I believe the agreement is a positive step forward not only for our university but also for the future students of this campus. The ISC is being approached by non-Indigenous student groups to have a position allocated for an Indigenous student. The sudden interest stems from agreements like the MOU between the university and FSIN and also the work our university is doing,” Fiddler said, by correspondence with the Sheaf.
Stoicheff stresses that the MOU is a long-term commitment.
“[The agreement] commits the university to listening to and receiving that advice and creates a structure that outlives anybody at the university now and anybody at the FSIN now, that commits to that on-going dialogue long into the future,” Stoicheff said.
As part of this commitment, the U of S will be holding an internal forum on Mar. 7 where departments and colleges will present the steps they have taken and the successes they have had in improving Indigenous representation.
Further, on Mar. 9 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre, the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Council will host an event defining Indigenization at the U of S and all students can attend. The event is dedicated to providing a platform for increased student involvement in the university’s efforts to define Indigenization and its integration into curriculum.
Stoicheff sees the university president’s role as a facilitator and promoter of dialogue between the institution and the FSIN and he looks forward to the work ahead.
“This is a very powerful and enormous start. There is a lot of work to be done over many years,” Stoicheff said. “I am extremely encouraged by the FSIN’s desire to work closely with us and I feel privileged that they want the president of the university to meet with their chiefs and to listen to their chiefs.”
Fiddler agrees with Stoicheff, conveying his support for the memorandum.
“Are we perfect? No. There is much work to be done, and signing agreements like the MOU is how we continue on that path forward.”
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor