USSU president proposes Elder-in-Residence pilot project

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Students at the University of Saskatchewan may soon have access to the council of an Indigenous Elder if a recent proposal from the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union president is passed by the University Students’ Council.

Presented to University Students’ Council on Nov. 8 by USSU President Rollin Baldhead, this proposal aims to recognize an Elder who will provide students with support and knowledge. Baldhead says that the position would lessen the centralization of Elders in the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre. Baldhead hopes to appoint one Elder to this position by Jan. 14, 2019.

Baldhead says that counsel from an Elder would provide new perspectives for students in various disciplines.

“I noticed there’s not much of a voice for minorities — and being an Indigenous person and a minority voice, I thought an Elder brings a lot of perspectives and ways of knowing to professions, whether it be mental health, education, medicine or even nursing,” Baldhead said.

A Cree painting that translates to “being able to succeed” is displayed in the Arts Building as students pass by on Nov. 26.

The project is expected to last three to four months, wherein the appointed Elder is proposed to earn a salary of around $30,000. The money is being funded mainly through leaders of Indigenous communities. Baldhead says that his role as an FSIN Indigenous Youth Representative has helped him with this fundraising. Baldhead has currently raised $8,000 for the project from these communities.

“What I’m doing is going out to reserves and saying, ‘Look, it’s time the USSU does this. We believe this, but do you believe it?’ And many of them are saying, ‘Yes, we do believe it,’ and then, they’re investing,” Baldhead said.

Baldhead says that the Elder’s requires adequate financial compensation for the knowledge they will provide.

“I want a salary, so it actually says in the budget that we recognize Indigenous people with hard money — that they are teachers, knowledge keepers, mental health workers — and that’s all done through oral-history teachings, storytelling [and] living off the land,” Baldhead said.

Baldhead says that, by employing an Elder, the USSU could help address misconceptions and stereotypes for non-Indigenous students.

“This could also help them just break down those barriers that Indigenous people face, but also, … it opens the mind of non-Indigenous [people], and it helps that misconception not stick to newcomers coming to Canada,” Baldhead said.

The proposal would appoint one Elder through the USSU for the pilot project. Baldhead believes an Elder can offer many things for university students.

“Right now, it’s a pilot project… This is something that we are moving towards, and we’re hoping that the next USSU president will take [the] reins,” Baldhead said. “We don’t want to burn these people out… We’ve got to make a work plan for them, we’ve got to see what we see for the future, and we honestly [have] got to ask them what their future plans are.”

Ultimately, Baldhead says that this proposal builds on the university’s inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing.

“For many years, there have been Indigenous Elders presented on the U of S campus to provide support and knowledge to growing Indigenous student cohorts,” Baldhead said. “Now, it’s time to broaden the reach of Elders to include newcomers and non-Indigenous students, too.”

Baldhead says that no Elder has been chosen for the role; although, he is currently in conversations with three eligible candidates.

Sophia Lagimodiere

Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor