Welcome Week is always an exciting time for new and returning students alike, and those present at the Aboriginal Students’ Centre Welcome event on Sept. 1 had a unique reason to be enthused, as special guest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in the festivities to start the year off.
The ASC Welcome at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre sought to familiarize new students with campus life. On top of an available lunch, the event also featured an array of campus related booths as well as a medley of guest speakers, ranging from an University of Saskatchewan alumnus to U of S Students’ Union President David D’Eon to the prime minister himself.
During the event, Trudeau participated in a round table discussion with 10 returning co-op students, from groups such as the Aboriginal Student Achievement Program, Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program and Usask STEM programs. Saskatoon member of parliament Ralph Goodale and U of S president Peter Stoicheff were also part of the discussion.
President Stoicheff spoke to the Sheaf about the round table and how it primarily focused on the experiences of those students present, rather than the greater university.
“There wasn’t much talk about the university, and I don’t think we needed that kind of discussion… I spoke little, deliberately. I wanted the prime minister to hear from the students,” Stoicheff said.
For Ana Sylvestre, a second-year arts and science student and one of the 10 students involved with the round table, this emphasis on the student experience was greatly appreciated.
“Being the only Aboriginal student in class often means that you get targeted to answer on behalf of all Aboriginal people, which isn’t right,” Sylvestre said.
Although no concrete steps were made during this round table, Sylvestre considers the meeting a successful step towards reconciliation.
“If you don’t go to the core of the issue, then how will you ever do better? I hope the intimacy of the discussion will help Trudeau, moving forward,” Sylvestre said.
Following the round table, Trudeau spoke at length to the public about the newly revealed Federal Student Work Experience Program and how it can benefit Aboriginal students. FSWEP seeks to provide students with the work experience necessary for students to properly enter the workforce by placing the student workers in federal public servant positions. The project is expected to cost $73 million and created 10,000 paid student work placements.
However, Trudeau made it plain that FSWEP can provide more than just jobs for students. He also considers it one important aspect of decolonization.
“Young people simply want to get good jobs and be able to return home to their communities [and], in many cases, to contribute and to break a cycle, whether it was residential schools or decades and generations of broken relations between crowns and Indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said.
This was Trudeau’s fourth visit to Saskatchewan since he was elected as prime minister in October 2015.
Photo: Jessica Klaassen-Wright | Editor in Chief