University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union president Rollin Baldhead’s proposal for hiring an Elder-in-Residence has been approved. The project is set to run from Jan. 24 to April 12 on a trial basis. University Students’ Council members had many questions to discuss before all voting in favor of the motion.
The bulk of the weekly USC meeting was taken up by a presentation on
mental-health services by Peter Hedley, director of student affairs and services in the office of the vice-provost, teaching, learning and student experience, but following the presentation, president Baldhead opened the discussion about the USSU Elder proposal.
According to the proposal, an Elder-in-Residence will benefit both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students through workshops and personal mentoring with the aim of fostering intercultural and intergenerational connections. The Elder will be at the university once a week, helping in areas ranging from Indigenous student retention rates to the stigma surrounding mental illness and the incorporation of a holistic worldview into curriculums.
Baldhead says the project is a proactive step towards the university’s goal of Indigenization.
“I think that we need to realize that it’s more than just land claims and recognizing … whose lands we are on,” Baldhead said. “We need to make actual, transparent and meaningful steps towards these words that are placed in front of us.”
A project budget of $5,000 was approved at the meeting to cover the Elder’s honorarium and other expenses. USSU general manager Caroline Cottrell said at the meeting that the Elder’s salary will be similar to that of a professor. When the idea was first put forward, it was proposed that the appointed Elder earn a salary of around $30,000, $8,000 of which Baldhead has reportedly already raised with the help of Indigenous community leaders.
Baldhead says that the project is being funded by the USSU for now but that the donations could be used to fund the position next year.
“It will [be funded] with the budget from the USSU. Unfortunately, with the proposal that I put in with the FSIN, it was too short of a time for the amount of money that was asked for,” Baldhead said. “However, that proposal looks good for next year, and whoever would be the successors for USSU council, it would be on them if they wanted to pursue that.”
Assessment of the project has not been determined yet. Cottrell speaks to the difficulty of assessing mental-health resources.
“When I was helping put this together, the suicide in engineering was one of the things that went through my head. If we prevent one student from [dying by] suicide, it’s worth every nickel,” Cottrell said. “We will keep some metrics, but whether they tell the story or not, I don’t know how you quantify value in this.”
Despite the project’s short run this term, Cottrell says the next council will probably develop the Elder-in-Residence position into a more permanent one.
“If it is the will of this council to take this forward to next year, I’ll make sure it goes forward,” Cottrell said at the USC meeting. “If this is the right thing to do, we won’t lose it just because it’s for 12 weeks, but we do want to test it a little bit before we commit full on.”
An Elder has been chosen for the position, but Baldhead says that their identity will probably not be disclosed until Jan. 24. The resident Elder will work out of the USSU main office, although Cottrell says that they intend to spend most of their time out in the community, in the USSU centres or giving talks in the International Student and Study Abroad Centre.
Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer
Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor