The Department of Indigenous Studies rejoiced in a celebration on September 22nd commemorating the 40th anniversary of its founding
As we gather here today, we acknowledge we are on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respect to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of this place and reaffirm our relationship with one another.
The University of Saskatchewan Department of Indigenous Studies is celebrating the 40th anniversary since the (formerly named) Department of Native Studies was created.
The anticipated event, hosted at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre, started at 8:30 a.m. and finished with a Gala dinner at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22nd. “I think one of our main objectives was to celebrate our early founding members that pushed for the Department, and to amplify their stories,” said Dr. Allyson Stevenson, an assistant professor with the Department and the Gabriel Dumont Institute Research Chair in Métis Studies.
Panels and roundtable discussions brought together graduate and undergraduate alumni, former Department Heads, current faculty, staff and students, to highlight the developments of the Department from the last forty years and the support it has brought to Indigenous students across the country.
Programs like ITEP (Indian Teacher Education Program, est. 1973), SUNTEP (Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program) and NORTEP (Northern Teacher Education Program), which were designed to provide First Nations students with access to Bachelor of Education degrees, were also recognized during the celebration for their incredible work and for being one of the “core requirements that we [the Department of Indigenous Studies] have always supported,” commented Dr. Stevenson.
Currently, the Department of Indigenous Studies offers over 50 undergraduate courses of all levels. According to the Department, the program “provides a thematic approach that can be applied equally to either historical or contemporary Aboriginal societies,” and offers classes in three distinct but interrelated themes: Society courses examining First Nations societies and communities; Indigenous studies research, focusing on research methods related to Indigenous societies and communities; and Indigenous studies theory courses, which “encompass macro-ideas of change within Aboriginal societies.” Additionally, they’ve offered a complete graduate program since 1997. At this time, Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs are available.
This, however, was not always the case. Before the 1960s, programs supporting Indigenous learning were scarce and enrollment of First Nations students was low. In the mid 1970s, statistics indicated that out of the 40,000 Bachelor’s degrees granted by USask, only 20 belonged to Indigenous students. In 1978 and 1979, the need for a program geared toward First Nations perspectives, culture, history and traditions — and providing quality educational opportunities to Indigenous Peoples in Saskatchewan — was dire.
During the late 1970s, the community-level governance organization Saskatoon Métis Local 126 was established at USask by Métis students, who sensed more support was needed for Indigenous post-secondary students in Saskatoon. An Ad Hoc Committee (a committee created to deal with specific situations) was created to resolve the issue and in 1982, the Native Studies Programme was introduced, followed by the foundation of the Department of Native Studies in 1983.
“The Department had to fight really hard for its position in the University — the priority was always serving students” said Dr. Stevenson. “That still remains our focus, and we do continue to advocate for Indigenous studies, Indigenous Peoples’ rights [and] Indigenous Students in the University.”
Since then, enrollment of Indigenous students at USask has improved. In the 2004/05 academic year, 1,825 students were self-declared as Indigenous, while in 2022/23 that number reached 3,240.
Undoubtedly, the faculty in the Department have had a significant impact in the field and have provided people across the country with the highest quality of education. They continue to leave their footprints in Indigenous Studies with what Dr. Stevenson says is “cutting edge Indigenous research, in Canada and internationally.”
The Department is also currently working on a website dedicated to the 40th anniversary. Dr. Stevenson hopes it will encourage past and present students, faculty and staff to stay connected with each other. To show that celebrations like this “don’t have to happen once every forty years.”
And from the staff at the Sheaf, congratulations to the Department of Indigenous Studies!