The University of Saskatchewan is consistently trying to create stronger relationships with Indigenous students and faculty, and Aboriginal Achievement Week is one more opportunity for all students to build community.
AAW began on Feb. 27 with a panel on sustainability featuring an undergraduate student, a graduate student and a professor who all presented their research findings. The week will also include a gala on Mar. 2 and a round dance on Mar. 3, both open to everyone.
Graeme Joseph, team leader of First Nations, Metis and Inuit student success at the Aboriginal Students’ Centre, spoke about how important it is for the U of S to host events like these.
“When we think about Aboriginal people, we often think about all of the significant challenges that exist within certain communities and Canadian society as a whole,” Joseph said. “What we want to do is take a moment to think about the contributions that Aboriginal people make to the university, Saskatoon and Saskatchewan, and to celebrate those contributions because they are significant and they are many.”
Joseph believes that it is important for Aboriginal people to have opportunities to express themselves outside of the narrative of common stereotypes.
“Through seeing Aboriginal people in a different way than they would be seen in things such as the media, students will have an intercultural experience [that will] help them gain a better understanding of who Aboriginal people are and our history, our culture and our contemporary society,” Joseph said.
Breanna Doucette-Garr, a third-year health studies student, and Tennille Bear, a masters’ student in Indigenous land-based education, had the opportunity to share their research during AAW. Bear focused on relationality, the values in language and land, effects of colonization, sustainability and how to apply these teachings to Indigenous communities.
Doucette-Garr explains her research and the principles behind it.
“My main focus is Indigenous energy sovereignty, which would make First Nations communities more autonomous and less reliant on the government for money, and instead generating their own income,” Doucette-Garr said.
To begin her research, Doucette-Garr started searching for an alternative energy resource that could be implemented in Indigenous communities.
“I found the solar updraft tower and it was really interesting to me, so I started doing research on that. From finding the materials for the structure and the variables you need to build the structure, I started looking for a community that would match this type of energy,” Doucette-Garr said. “I found a reservation in Arizona that would work perfectly, so I took the research I found and applied it to the area.”
Doucette-Garr believes that university students should be finding ways to implement these kinds of renewable energy resources in order to change the course of energy consumption in the future.
“Looking for these kinds of alternative energy resources is important because we are in a time of transition and we have an incredible opportunity right now to implement these different ideas so that we can move away from non-renewable energy resources,” Doucette-Garr said. “Our generation has the opportunity to leave a better footprint for future generations.”
Doucette-Garr is unsure if she will work further on this research, but she knows that she will continue to contemplate autonomy in Indigenous communities.
“I am always thinking about what I can do to help make Indigenous people more autonomous and I am always so baffled by the complexity of that question,” Doucette-Garr said. “There’s so many more deep-rooted issues than just trying to find an economic answer, but it does help. So I took an economic stance to [try] to help Indigenous communities with this research.”
Doucette-Garr emphasizes how important university can be for Indigenous students who want to make an impact in their home communities.
“Just having Indigenous people come to university is so important. Those innovative ideas are out there and having Indigenous people come to university and finding these ideas and bringing them back to their community could solve so many issues, so that is the principle behind my research. The ideas are out there. We just need to come to university to find them.”
Photo: Shazia Nagji / Supplied