The University of Saskatchewan has made an agreement with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner to increase accessibility for Indigenous peoples to education and pursue higher success and completion rates.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the OTC and the university, through the Office of the Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement, on Nov. 18.
Jacqueline Ottmann, university vice-provost of Indigenous engagement, says Indigenous students’ completion rates at the U of S change from year to year. Collaborating with the OTC and supporting Indigenous students are important in fulfilling the agreement, she says, which also includes increasing Indigenous people’s participation in post-secondary decision-making.
“It’s important that we work alongside other organizations like the OTC to encourage our Indigenous youth, our Indigenous students, to not only consider university but once in university, to work hard at completing the programs that they’ve enrolled in,” Ottmann said.
According to Ottmann, a large part of the MOU consists of evaluating the university’s reconciliation efforts. In order to do this, the OTC and the university are developing a reconciliation evaluation tool.
“This particular process — and it’s something that we can adapt for the university — would inspire us to experience deeper forms of reconciliation,” Ottmann said.
First on the university’s list is working with the OTC to develop “a common set of indicators”. These indicators are based on the university’s strategic processes, along with the University Plan 2025, the Indigenous strategy and the EDI Strategy. These strategies will help ensure different forms of reconciliation are taking place on campus.
Ottmann says the university’s partnership with the OTC reflects “respectful relationships and working alongside self-determination.”
Transformative decolonization leading to reconciliation is one of the goals listed in the University Plan 2025 and Ottmann emphasizes that “Indigenization is recognized as one of the important pillars of the university.”
“Reconciliation will foster new ways of being and doing and relating to each other — ways that draw upon our strengths, ways that are healing, ways that foster a sense of belonging,” Ottmann said.
The university has “always had a relationship with the [OTC],” says Ottmann. The development of the MOU began about a year ago, when the university was introduced to the reconciliation evaluation tool in meetings between the OVPIE and the OTC. Ottmann says seeing the OTC’s work has prompted the university to implement similar processes.
“The work that they’ve done is very inspiring, and we could see a place for this particular process at the university,” Ottmann said.
Her hope is that, once the university has implemented the OTC’s measures, individuals will become more aware of their actions in order to address problem areas.
“We could … identify belief systems and policies and programming that are damaging, that are divisive, and replace them with policies and programming and initiatives that really do support Indigenous students,” Ottmann said.
“By supporting Indigenous students, we’re all going to be strengthened.”
Fiza Baloch | Staff Writer
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor