The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

University pushes forward with $15 million student centre

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Gordon Oakes' family speak at Upper Place Riel.
After a lengthy struggle to secure funding which lasted roughly a decade, the University of Saskatchewan officially announced it will be moving forward on the $15 million Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre.

“We expect construction to begin as early as 2012,” said U of S president Peter MacKinnon to a cheering crowd of more than 100 gathered in Upper Place Riel Oct. 4.

In an interview with the Sheaf last month, MacKinnon said the access and success of aboriginal students in postsecondary education in Saskatchewan is fundamentally important to the future.

“We’re committed to providing support and services to our growing population of aboriginal students at the U of S,” said MacKinnon. “We look forward to creating an even more welcoming environment for our entire student population, as our enrolment continues to grow.”

The abstract design of the building was done by Douglas Cardinal, the chief architect behind the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The planned centre will be between the Murray Library and the Arts building, a spot that has been central to several rallies organized by the Indigenous Student Council in recent years.

It will not only be a hub for aboriginal students, but a vibrant inclusive gathering place for all U of S students and faculty to connect, share knowledge and learn from one another, said MacKinnon.

“This building is more than just brick and steel. It is a home away from home,” said Ryan Moccasin, president of the Indigenous Student Council.

The centre is named after the influential Gordon Oakes, who was born in 1932 in Cypress Hills, Sask., on what is now the Nekaneet First Nation, where he was chief.

“Throughout his life, he was a spiritual leader within his community and across the province. Oakes died in February 2002 and arrangements to name the centre after Oakes began early in the project’s life,” said a university news release.

Members of the Oakes family were on hand for the announcement, and thanked President Mackinnon, the U of S and Saskatchewan advanced education minister Rob Norris for their commitment to quality aboriginal education.

Currently, there are approximately 1,900 U of S students who identify themselves as aboriginal, or 9 per cent of the student population — more than any other university in Canada.

Photo: Margie de Jager

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