Retreat talks reconciliation with student leaders

By in News

A University of Saskatchewan Student Leadership Gathering at Wanuskewin Heritage Park took place on Sept. 30, bringing together a diverse group of students representing an assortment of campus groups, most of which have a cultural or international focus.

Both international and domestic students had the opportunity to connect with Indigenous students’ associations and councils. At the end of the day-long retreat, the organizers announced that funding is available for any reconciliation initiatives on campus.

Marie-Eve Presber, a first-year graduate student in Canadian history and one of the students representing the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Council, explains that many countries have been scarred by colonialism, which is why she believes that cross-cultural work is meaningful and impactful.    

“Canada is not the only country that is trying to reconcile with its Indigenous peoples. So, hearing that … the International Students’ [Association] and the Indigenous Students’ Council really collaborated together to make this event — it was wonderful, because it was the first step towards this collaboration and this global community, which is as important as this local community,” Presber said.

The U of S has focused its attention in the past few years on commitments to Indigenize and internationalize the campus community, but rarely do these two campaigns intersect. However, student leaders from both groups were invited to Wanuskewin to bridge these concepts in hopes of future partnership.

The funding allotted for students to work on reconciliation events is meant to engage Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups together, said Graeme Joseph, the team leader First Nations, Métis and Inuit student success and manager of the Aboriginal Students’ Centre.

Femi Yusuf, a seventh-year geology and environment and society student and president of the African Students’ Association, explains that the retreat was an opportunity for students of Indigenous and international groups to connect and find similarities.

“All three groups [coming] together is really significant, because for so long, these groups on campus haven’t had their voices heard, so now … having them come together and recognize the strength in unity is really a stepping stone,” Yusuf said.

The retreat began as an idea from the Global Connections Network, a group of cultural student groups on the U of S campus, but it soon evolved beyond the original idea. The event grew into the Student Leadership Gathering at Wanuskewin, which was open to the wider campus community.

The retreat opened with a smudging ceremony and an introduction by Elder Jake Sanderson, followed by addresses from U of S President Peter Stoicheff and Ernie Walker, a faculty member in archeology and anthropology, who presented on the history of Wanuskewin and how it came to exist.

Students were able to network during lunch, the guided tour of the heritage park and the breakout sessions, which allowed for greater dialogue between student groups, Yusuf explains.

“I think at the beginning, there, everybody didn’t really know each other that well. As the day gradually progressed, everybody [got] comfortable, and now, you can see that everybody is talking,” Yusuf said. “It’s been a beautiful day, coming out here to see the nature, the valley. It’s made people more connected.”

Students from different groups spent time with one another and were able to attend breakout sessions about the logistics of event planning or on the topic of leadership and resilience. Indigenous students’ associations and councils gathered during this time for their own breakout session.

Betty Pewapsconias, a third-year drama student, discusses the importance of becoming involved in initiatives that open dialogues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, like the student leadership retreat.

“The term reconciliation, I feel like it applies to this space, too. It’s not just for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is necessarily for us, as people, to understand each other and listen to each other,” Pewapsconias said. “I personally didn’t have these connections before today, so I really appreciate that the university put this on to bring this conversation together.”

Nykole King / News Editor

Photographic Illustration: Laura Underwood / Layout Manager

Photo of Wanuskewin Heritage Park by Kevin M Klerks / Flickr