On Nov. 18, festivities took place at the University of Saskatchewan Place Riel Student Centre to celebrate initiatives towards a greater collaboration between the university and Métis Nation–
At the event, MN-S President Glen McCallum, MN-S Education Minister Earl Cook and U of S President Peter Stoicheff signed a Memorandum of Understanding, followed by the first on-campus Métis flag raising in front of the Thorvaldson Building.
Additionally, the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program student council organized a display next to the Louis Riel plaque in Place Riel, showcasing posters to learn about his impact on Canadian history and offering free tea and bannock.
The MOU commits the university to improving educational opportunities for Métis people and increasing their presence on all levels at campus, as Stoicheff explains at the event.
“These are not just words that are spoken at meetings behind closed doors,” Stoicheff said. “When we sign an MOU, it is because we are making a public declaration of commitment. To listen, to learn from and to work with Indigenous peoples.”
In the last year, there has been a seven per cent increase of self-declared Indigenous students at the university. Of the 3,400 Indigenous students enrolled at the U of S, 38 per cent of them self-identify as Métis. Stoicheff says that part of the university’s commitment is to improve Indigenous students’ completion rates.
“I do quote the number because our intention — and that’s part of what’s embedded in this MOU that we’re about to sign — is that those students are supported for success and that the retention rate and graduation rates for Indigenous students are exactly the same as they are for non-Indigenous students,” Stoicheff said.
Autumn LaRose-Smith, vice-president student affairs of the U of S Students’ Union and fourth-year SUNTEP student, was the one to reach out to SUNTEP and suggest that they hold the event in Place Riel in celebration of Louis Riel Day.
“I think it’s really important because Louis Riel specifically had such a huge impact within Canadian history, and within Métis history and culture. And it’s not often taught about,” LaRose-Smith said.
The SUNTEP student council members’ display was a successful educational campaign for people to learn more about Louis Riel and the Métis Nation, according to LaRose-Smith, who highlights the importance of providing opportunities for Métis people to learn about their culture and history.
“Growing up, I always knew that I was Métis. It wasn’t something that was hidden in my household. But at the same time, I didn’t really know what that meant,” LaRose-Smith said. “I had grown up volunteering and working for the Métis local and I had attended cultural events. But I was never really given those cultural teachings that I deeply craved.”
LaRose-Smith says that the U of S’s public commitment will ensure that their promise of Indigenizing the university is upheld. As the MOU was signed by the university in partnership with MN-S, she is pleased with the spirit of collaboration surrounding the event.
“The MOU was just recognizing that the strong partnership that they plan to have between the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and the university to make sure that they are upholding their promise with Indigenizing the university,” LaRose-Smith said.
“Why have 10 people doing the same thing when we could just work together and create something wonderful?”
Sophia Lagimodiere/ Outreach Director
Photos: Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor